Researchers at CU Boulder’s BioServe Space Technologies have designed an experiment to grow the common E. coli bacteria under weightlessness, on the International Space Station (ISS).
By treating it with several different concentrations of gentamicin sulfate, a drug that kills this bacteria on Earth , the bacteria changed shape to survive and become resistant to this drug.
What was observed in the experiment is that the response of the cultured bacteria included a 13-fold increase in cell number and a 73% reduction in cell volume size compared to a control group from Earth. As Luis Zea , principal investigator of the BioServe study explains:
We knew that bacteria behave differently in space and that higher concentrations of antibiotics are needed to kill them. What is new is that we carried out a systematic analysis of the changing physical appearance of bacteria during the experiments.
The new study also showed that the bacterial cell envelope – essentially its cell wall and outer membrane – became thicker, or that it would likely further protect the bacteria from the antibiotic .
This experiment and others like it give us an opportunity to better understand how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics here on Earth.