Mutations in space
September 25, 2007 11:43 AM   Subscribe

In 2006 scientists sent a container of salmonella to space and kept an identical container on Earth under similar temperature conditions. Bacteria from both strains were fed to mice, and the "space germs", having undergone 167 gene changes, were 3 times more likely to make the mice sick.
posted by reformedjerk (48 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If someone were to get pregnant in space, would there be similar effects? Scary.
posted by nasreddin at 11:50 AM on September 25, 2007


It's good to see that NASA isn't exclusively funding mainstream, "non-mad" scientists.
posted by bonecrusher at 11:51 AM on September 25, 2007 [7 favorites]


Let me be first to say that I quite liked the human race and I will be sad to see it go.
posted by Kattullus at 11:52 AM on September 25, 2007


The headline is a bit much... it reads:

[Generally] Germs Taken to Space Come Back Deadlier

when the article really is:

[In One Specific Instance, Some] Germs Taken to Space Come Back Deadlier [n Terms of LD50 Measures]
posted by GuyZero at 11:52 AM on September 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Don't be an ass! That link only shows what salmonella could do in the hands of an enemy!"
posted by Smart Dalek at 11:53 AM on September 25, 2007


The moral of this story is make sure you cook the alien egg pod that lands in your back yard before eating it.
posted by aubilenon at 11:57 AM on September 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


And we thought this was a good idea why?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:58 AM on September 25, 2007


Q: Why did the astronauts bring butter into outer space?

A: Because they wanted margarine for air.
posted by Curry at 12:00 PM on September 25, 2007


I was very disappointed when I explored the space-germs tag.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:02 PM on September 25, 2007


Space germs? Meh. Fantastic Four already did it.
posted by fandango_matt at 12:05 PM on September 25, 2007


Maybe it was the cosmic radiation...
posted by kuatto at 12:07 PM on September 25, 2007


Anybody got the citation for this? The Times article seems to blame "fluid shear" from microgravity, rather than the higher levels of radiation up there inducing mutations, which is what I would have expected...
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:09 PM on September 25, 2007


ARE SPACE GERMS KILLING YOUR CHILDREN? MORE AT 11!
posted by klangklangston at 12:13 PM on September 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


I wonder if the spouses of astronauts are more likely to get sick when their partners come back from missions -especially ones who were on the Space Station for an extended period of time.
posted by horsemuth at 12:14 PM on September 25, 2007


I kind of got the impression from the article that the low fluid shear of microgravity, possibly in combination with the higher incidence of mutation from radiation, led to an increase in adaptation for low fluid shear.

I then assumed that these salmonella outperformed the control group in the mice because they were more suited for the low fluid shear environment of the gastrointestinal tract.

That seems to make the most sense to me, but I am not a microbiologist.
posted by polyhedron at 12:19 PM on September 25, 2007


China has been sending seeds into space to induce mutations, I don't see why they can't just irradiate them here like a normal person.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:19 PM on September 25, 2007


The space germs made me do it!

Hammer, rope, duct tape, coat, wig, pepper spray... and my mitts
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:21 PM on September 25, 2007


This explains Mr. Bigglesworth.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:21 PM on September 25, 2007


What with this and that mysterious sickness-causing meteorite that landed in Peru, everything's going a bit too Andromeda Strain for my liking. I believe I shall retire to my underground bunker.
posted by flashboy at 12:24 PM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]




my new screenplay: Zombie Space Mice From Beyond the Moon

erm.. that title's a bit clunky. I like where this is going, though.
posted by ninjew at 12:28 PM on September 25, 2007


my new screenplay: Zombie Space Mice From Beyond the Moon

erm.. that title's a bit clunky. I like where this is going, though.


Might I respectfully suggest: "Killer Zombie Space Mice From The Deadly Planet Beyond the Moon?"

Unless, of course, they're from a deadly nebula or something. Feel free to mix it up a bit, it's just a suggestion.
posted by vorfeed at 12:34 PM on September 25, 2007


We'll have to nuke it from the ground. It's the only way to be sure.
posted by DU at 12:35 PM on September 25, 2007


There was a missing test here:

Take Salmonella to Fiji for the same period of time -- keep half the population in a hermetically sealed environment, and let the other half adapt to the local fauna. See if either population has the same number of changes, and the same impact on health.

Also, try heating or cooling a population, to introduce unusual adaptations not sourced from gravity,

It is possible that the space Salmonella was simply not adapted to, in the way that the control group was already familiar.
posted by effugas at 12:41 PM on September 25, 2007


I always suspected that Bret Michaels was an alien.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:42 PM on September 25, 2007


Might I respectfully suggest: "Killer Zombie Space Mice From The Deadly Planet Beyond the Moon?"

I think you guys are missing the zeitgeist train here. Short, simple, to the point is the rule of the day -- you've seen those "Bionic Woman" ads, right? Dude, people don't even have time for definite articles anymore! It's gonna be one of the following:

Killer Mice
Zombie Mice
Mouse Zombies
Deadly Planet
Zombie Planet
Zombie Moon


Although...

Deadly Killer Zombie Space Mouse

Hmmmm.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:47 PM on September 25, 2007


“Every 62 million years, the solar system passes above or below the galactic plane, becoming exposed the enormous radiation that gas and dust shield us from we are within the galactic plane. We're due for another blast in about 10 million years.”

Holy Crap 10 million years!? *moves couch*
posted by Smedleyman at 1:10 PM on September 25, 2007


Do they mean 167 genes mutated, or just changed their expression profiles? God, I hate bad science journalism!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:19 PM on September 25, 2007


Every time I go into space, I come back a little deadlier too.
posted by JWright at 1:20 PM on September 25, 2007


Do you have stairs in your house?
posted by frecklefaerie at 1:33 PM on September 25, 2007


i thought zombies were pasé already. now killer mummy mice on the other hand...
posted by fuzzypantalones at 1:35 PM on September 25, 2007


Moon Mice! Moonimice!
posted by doctorschlock at 2:08 PM on September 25, 2007


mmmmmm.....zombie paté.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:17 PM on September 25, 2007


Well, if noone else will say it...

I for one welcome our new space germ overlords!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:10 PM on September 25, 2007


So what they discovered was:

1. exposure to radiation causes mutations
2. some mutations are beneficial

Why, exactly, is anyone surprised by this? That was one of the primary tools used during the "Green Revolution".
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:19 PM on September 25, 2007


You know who else experimented with gene changes?
posted by Curry at 3:19 PM on September 25, 2007


SCDB, that's a very simplistic interpretation of what happened.

I don't think random mutations are responsible for their results. The likelihood of a random mutation being beneficial is extremely small. Without some other selective pressure I doubt irradiation alone would produce these results. This shouldn't be too hard to verify.

It makes more sense that the bacteria adapted to a different environment than the control group and that those adaptations were beneficial in the host. The low fluid shear environment in microgravity is more like the low fluid shear environment of the GI tract than wherever the control sample was kept. The article implies that this is the mechanism that the researchers are investigating.

I think this is very interesting and hope to see more research along these lines.
posted by polyhedron at 3:56 PM on September 25, 2007


Seconding kfb: gotta be punchy. Gotta be ...



X-Mice!
posted by rob511 at 5:19 PM on September 25, 2007


StickyCarpet writes "China has been sending seeds into space to induce mutations, I don't see why they can't just irradiate them here like a normal person."

'Cause then they couldn't be marketed as "Space Vegetables".
posted by Mitheral at 6:01 PM on September 25, 2007


I don't think random mutations are responsible for their results. The likelihood of a random mutation being beneficial is extremely small. Without some other selective pressure I doubt irradiation alone would produce these results.

Right. The "selective pressure" is called "Natural Selection" and we revere Darwin for discovering it.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:13 PM on September 25, 2007


um. if you were to let a few samples of salmonella sit around under similar conditions on earth and then tested them, would there also be a noticeable difference? doesn't evolution take place to some degree all the time in virus's and bacteria? i honestly don't know, but the article doesn't really say either. any biologists out there know?
posted by es_de_bah at 6:54 PM on September 25, 2007


Gene change != mutation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:37 PM on September 25, 2007


es_de_bah writes "if you were to let a few samples of salmonella sit around under similar conditions on earth and then tested them, would there also be a noticeable difference?"

That's exactly what they tested:
"The researchers placed identical strains of salmonella in containers and sent one into space aboard the shuttle, while the second was kept on Earth, under similar temperature conditions to the one in space."
posted by Mitheral at 8:51 PM on September 25, 2007


Right. And the ones that were sent to space were exposed to more radiation, a known mutagen. After that, natural selection weeded out the vast majority of the mutations which were crap.

You can do exactly the same thing here on earth using exposure to gamma rays -- and they have done so, to various grains and other food plants, as part of the multidecade process of improving the world's farming yield.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:30 PM on September 25, 2007


Another report suggests it is a change in gene expression profiles causing the increased virulence, not mutations due to radiation.

I'd love to read the full paper, but I can't find a copy - according to PNAS, "because PNAS publishes daily online, you may read about an article in the news media on Monday or Tuesday, but the article may not publish online until later in the week." Great.
posted by penguinliz at 6:36 AM on September 26, 2007


No way of duplicating microgravity on earth though.
posted by Mitheral at 7:20 AM on September 26, 2007


"After that, natural selection weeded out the vast majority of the mutations which were crap."

Natural selection isn't just like some guy named Doug who comes along and kills things he thinks are shitty. Natural selection operates by response to the environment, and especially with bacteria, that means the immediate environment. Natural selection would kill off the mutations that weren't as adept at surviving in a low-gravity environment or a high radiation environment, but wouldn't just deus ex machina the salmonella to be more deadly to mice.
posted by klangklangston at 8:10 AM on September 26, 2007


SCDB, you incurious malapert, selective pressure is not the same as natural selection. Selective pressure is a force or factor that causes a change in allele frequency through natural selection.

This story is more complicated and more significant than your arrogant know-it-all intellect appears capable of comprehending.
posted by polyhedron at 8:26 AM on September 26, 2007


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