back to article Mutant space germs threaten International Space Station

Everything that goes to the International Space Station gets clean-roomed to within an inch of its life, but humans are leaving behind a considerable microbial footprint. That's the finding of research conducted by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and it's a serious problem, because one of the health impacts of a stint on the …

jake
Silver badge

Whatever.

Healthy humans will survive.

PleebSmash
Thumb Down

Re: Whatever.

The healthy, yet immune-compromised humans of the ISS will survive?

The Man Who Fell To Earth
Silver badge
Boffin

Re: Whatever.

High "survivability" is in fact the definition of "healthy" for organisms.

jake
Silver badge

@ PleebSmash (was: Re: Whatever.)

"immune-compromised humans of the ISS"

Post proof or retract.

Anonymous Coward
Graham Marsden
Facepalm

@jake - Re: @ PleebSmash (was: Whatever.)

RTFA: "one of the health impacts of a stint on the ISS is a suppressed immune system."

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward

Re: @jake - @ PleebSmash (was: Whatever.)

I think you're mistaking Jake for someone who comes here for the articles

Neil Barnes
Silver badge
Boffin

Morning Boss,

I can't come in today; I've got a bad attack of Space Cheeses.

Martin Budden

Re: Morning Boss,

You can get rid of Space Cheeses more easily if you remember to bring the Space Crackers.

x 7
Silver badge

Re: Morning Boss,

You can get rid of Space Cheeses more easily if you remember to wash the underpants more often

Allan George Dyer
Silver badge

Start treating the ISS as what it is...

an enclosed ecosystem. Instead of pretending everything can be sterilised, manage the ecological balance.

Obligatory xkcd.

Anonymous Coward
Mushroom

Re: Start treating the ISS as what it is...

Everything can be sterilised - you just need to nuke it from orbit...

The entire Radio 1 playlist commitee

Re: Start treating the ISS as what it is...

... its the only way to be sure

I ain't Spartacus
Gold badge
Devil

Re: Start treating the ISS as what it is...

Everything can be sterilised - you just need to nuke it from orbit...

Two problems with this statement.

Firstly, what happens if the item you're trying to nuke is already in orbit? Surely you now need to take off and nuke it from the next solar system. It's the only way to be sure.

Secondly, I've seen the documentary Godzilla. Sometimes when you nuke things, they just get bigger, and angrier.

Chemist

Don't know what they expected.

Humans can't be clean roomed to the same degree, organisms multiply & filters concentrate. No-one on the ISS ever had a cold, flu or GI upset ?

As an example I worked in a building with forced air ventilation, After Chernobyl, although the local levels of radiation were only transiently raised, the ventilation filters were quite noticeably radioactive having purified many building volumes of outside air every 24hrs.

Graham Marsden

Re: Don't know what they expected.

> Humans can't be clean roomed to the same degree

See The Andromeda Strain for details...

x 7
Silver badge

Re: Don't know what they expected.

" Humans can't be clean roomed to the same degree

See The Andromeda Stain for details..."

went out with a girl called Andromeda once........very dirty girl, always stained the sheets......

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Boffin

Opportunistic pathogens

are simply bacteria that are harmless under most circumstances, and happily coexist with us on our skin or in our bowels. Only when there is serious suppression of the immune system can they become a problem (i.e. when there is an opportunity). It should come as no surprise that these creatures were found, and I would go along with the advice on the cover of the book

"What book?"

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"

"Oh, that hack rag"

Marc 25

Re: Opportunistic pathogens

So what happens if you're planning to spend a long time in space, I dunno, lets say 6 years? Your immune system could become pretty suppressed by then, and that insignificant cold could be come a killer.

If you're going to spend billions of dollars sending a manned ship to another planet, you kinda want the crew to arrive in top health and not crawling for the lemsip.

I don't understand though, why does the immune system get suppressed in spaaaaace?

Chemist

Re: Opportunistic pathogens

"I don't understand though, why does the immune system get suppressed in spaaaaace?"

Don't have a ready answer to that although I do know all sorts of biological systems seem to be affected by weightlessness + ?. In particular calcium metabolism/mobilization. Calcium levels have a direct and profound effect on lots of systems in the body.

Given the complexity of the immune system and the known effects of various interventions I'd think it might be quite a time before all of the possible effects might be know.

One, rather obvious one, given that sitting on top of a giant firework is in the job description is stress. This is known to have +ve & -ve effects on the immune system.

John Sturdy
Boffin

Re: Opportunistic pathogens

For opportunistic pathogens to cause a problem doesn't require suppression of the immune system; it can simply be that something that's harmless in one place is harmful in another. I've recently found this through personal experience, having had shoulder surgery in which one of the incisions happened to pass through a hair follicle, thus pushing propionibacterium acnes (the pathogen that causes acne, but otherwise lives as a harmless commensal in hair follicles) deeper into my body, causing an obvious majorly inflamed area and a risk of arthritis in two years if it got into the joint capsule. The treatment was six weeks of intravenous antibiotics. I normally shake off infections fairly quickly, so it's not as if my immune system was compromised.

(There's an interesting experimental preventative treatment for this problem, by the way: seal the skin with cyanoacrylate, thus gluing the bacteria into place.)

I guess they'll carry quite a range of antibiotics, and a quick google search indicates that crew medical officers are trained to insert IV lines. I don't know what they'd do about the equivalent of a drip chamber in zero-g, but I'm sure someone's found a way round that one.

Roger Greenwood

Re: Opportunistic pathogens

" why does the immune system get suppressed in spaaaaace? "

Because on earth your system is constantly at war fighting off new threats and evolves with the bugs. What happens to your muscles if you don't exercise? The bugs continue to change at home even if you aren't there.

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward

Re: Opportunistic pathogens

"Because on earth your system is constantly at war fighting off new threats and evolves with the bugs."

On the spacecraft that brought me to this hell hole of a planet, we always bring a few shovels of dirt from the home world up with us and throw them around the spacecraft just to be sure. And we make sure our ships are infected with our version of rats & cockroaches too, just to sweeten the sauce.

As one of our philosophers who once had a human named Nietzsche as a slave always said, "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.

x 7
Silver badge

Re: Opportunistic pathogens

"And we make sure our ships are infected with our version of rats & cockroaches too"

you won't starve then.

nijam
Silver badge

Re: Opportunistic pathogens

> I don't understand though, why does the immune system get suppressed in spaaaaace?

Probably because there aren't enough pathogens there to keep it functioning correctly, in turn because of the delusion that you can claen-room everything.

TitterYeNot

Re: Opportunistic pathogens

"I don't understand though, why does the immune system get suppressed in spaaaaace?"

Long term exposure to microgravity can cause all sorts of interesting effects due to changes in the distribution of fluids throughout the body, such as causing poor eyesight because of increased intra-ocular pressure in the eyes. I imagine a lack of gravity could play merry hell with circulation of lymph in the lymphatic system, which is a vital part of the immune system.

DanceMan
Boffin

Re: Opportunistic pathogens

I attended a fascinating lecture by the lovely boffin who lead the team that worked out how bacteria communicate. And it showed how bacteria that are always on us, like strep, when they determine that our defenses are low and the bacteria have sufficient numbers to overwhelm them, know then to attack.

So in that way a suppressed immune system is indeed a problem.

Martin Budden

Re: Opportunistic pathogens

crew medical officers are trained to insert IV lines. I don't know what they'd do about the equivalent of a drip chamber in zero-g, but I'm sure someone's found a way round that one.

My first guess would be a peristaltic pump.

Tom 13

Re: Your immune system could become pretty suppressed

But the microbes on the filters are still irrelevant since the sources of the microbes are the astronauts themselves. If the immune system is suppressed to the point the microbes can infect, the infection sources will be the skins of the astronauts.

So there is a sense in which the first poster was right: the healthy ones will survive the unhealthy ones will die. Eliminate the microbes on the space station won't fix that. Only figuring out what needs to happen to boost the immune system back to normal will.

Stevey
Mushroom

War?

'....scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians -- dead! -- slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared'

Someonehasusedthathandle

Re: War?

DUN DUN DUN

The planet earth, now over run with tiny opportunistic martian bacteria slowly succumb to the microbial invasion fleet that so valiantly succeeded where their once hosts failed. Man was beaten, slowly sinking underground into sealed bunkers. Hiding for it's very existence, hoping one day to emerge again into the sun lights red glow.

"The chances of bacteria coming from Mars is a million to one he said, the chances of bacteria coming from Mars is a million to one but still they came"

DUN DUN DUN

phuzz
Silver badge
Megaphone

Re: War?

I'm going to have that tune stuck in my head all day now.

That's a good thing as far as I'm concerned :)

Tom 13

Re: War?

The more we learn about both microbes and traveling in space, the more incorrect Well's hypothesis looks.

tony2heads
Pirate

Swab the decks

ye earth lubbers

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward

Ripley knew how to deal

Have Jones in life-support, check!

Wearing briefs, check!

Air lock open!

silver fox
Trollface

Space cheese!

What an opportunity!

Blitheringeejit
Holmes

Relativity

So diphtheria and yoghurt are close relatives? I always suspected there was something dodgy about yoghurt...

Chemist

Re: Relativity

"So diphtheria and yoghurt are close relatives? I always suspected there was something dodgy about yoghurt..."

AFAIK the connection between Corynebacterium & yogurt is indirect. One Corynebacterium species is used in the manufacture of glutamate and then that glutamate is used in various foodstuffs including yogurt.

"One of the most studied species is C. glutamicum, whose name refers to its capacity to produce glutamic acid in aerobic conditions.[27] It is used in the food industry as monosodium glutamate in the production of soy sauce and yogurt."

"https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corynebacterium#Industrial_uses"

tiggity
Silver badge

No surprise

There is no way you could remove all the various bacteria, virues & fungi on (and, even more impossible to remove, in!) each person visiting the ISS. So should be no surprise that various bugs lurking

CCCP

Re: No surprise

Slight amend. There's no way you could remove all bacteria and keep the wannabe astro/cosmonaut alive.

Off topic, isn't about bloody time we have single word for space travellers, instead of country variations? I vote for stellanaut because it's Latin for star and sounds like beer.

x 7
Silver badge

mutated space-irradiated bacteria. What an excellent breeding ground for the next generation of bacteriological warfare

cray74
Silver badge

Mir: The Funky Station

The issue's not new. Mir was filled with mold and fungus by the time of its decommissioning. Visitors commented the biggest impression left on them by Mir was its olfactory funk (as opposed to the works of George Clinton).

Wiki on Mir's microbrial onslaught

Per this article, "Visitors have found numerous fungal patches with hues between green and black, feeding behind control panels, slowly digesting the ship's air conditioner, communications unit, and myriad other surfaces. Pull out an insulation panel on Mir, and you'll probably find fungus. ...

Squinting to set his sights on the passing Earth below, this space explorer instead focused on a thick living mat that had made its way up the window's hard quartz surface, nearly obliterating any view. ...

Linenger, who is a medical doctor and holds a doctorate in epidemiology, used a standard NASA test to determine fungal counts on surfaces. For the shuttle, he explained, the samples would be placed in a medium so their growth could be tracked over several days. But on Mir, he said, he couldn't do the count because the container was overgrown in half a day. "

The ISS took lessons from Mir's fungal issues, but there's a limit. It's humid and warm in the ISS, and has been filled with humans shedding all sorts of lovely skin cells and other biological fodder for years.

Martin Budden

Re: Mir: The Funky Station

Sounds like the answer is a Roomba. I like the idea of a vacuum in space ;-)

Velv
Silver badge
Childcatcher

Sounds like some scientist is laying the ground work for their forthcoming sci-if horror novel

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward

Cultivation

Sterilization doesn't seem to be working. By leaving a vacant, resource rich (for mirco flora & fauna) environment we give whatever gets there first a utopia to grow unchecked within.

Maybe we should identify what we don't mind (physically, not mentally) sharing our livings spaces with and encouraging it/them to colonise that environment? We can then compensate for any effects.

Sceptic Tank
IT Angle

Don't touch that .....

Uhm ... so this stuff was found in the air filters? So the filters are working then?

I suppose it depends on which side of the filter it was found.

Rol
Silver badge

I had this thought the other day

It sounds novel, but I'm sure some biologists have tossed this around before:-

Fill the craft with highly virulent, yet totally harmless bacteria.

By having a benign bacteria dominate every corner of the craft, no other bacteria could get a foothold.

x 7
Silver badge

Re: I had this thought the other day

"highly virulent, yet totally harmless bacteria."

I suggest you check the meaning of "virulent" and try again

Virulent:- (of a disease or poison) extremely severe or harmful in its effects.

synonyms: poisonous, toxic, venomous, noxious, deadly, lethal, fatal, mortal, terminal, death-dealing, life-threatening, dangerous, harmful, injurious, pernicious, damaging, destructive, unsafe; contaminating, polluting; (literary)deathly, nocuous, mephitic; (archaic) baneful

highly infectious, highly infective, highly contagious, infectious, infective, contagious, rapidly spreading, communicable, transmittable, transmissible, spreading, malignant, uncontrollable, pernicious, pestilential;

severe, extreme, violent, dangerous, harmful, lethal, life-threatening;

(informal) catching;

(literary) pestiferous

Rol
Silver badge

Re: I had this thought the other day

Yep. I'm the one standing in the corner with the dunce cap.

I think I was clutching for virile and the English language which has lots of rhyme lacks reason by the bouquet load.

Stevie
Silver badge

Bah!

Mutant space germs threaten International Space Station

And how is this a surprise? Has no-one involved in the space effort seen The Quatermass Experiment?

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2018