Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Discovered on International Space Station Toilet

Antibiotic resistance isn’t just a problem on Earth. It’s happening in space, too. LiveScience reports that NASA scientists have found drug-resistant bacteria in samples from one of the space toilets on the International Space Station.

As part of a study published in the journal BMC Microbiology, scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory looked at waste samples taken from the ISS in 2015. They isolated five strains of Enterobacter bugandensis bacteria, sequencing their genomes and analyzing their susceptibility to antibiotics. They compared these space strains to strains found on Earth, including some that have been linked to patients in hospital settings.

Normally, because of the lack of interplanetary sewers, astronaut waste is simply flushed into space, where it will incinerate on its way back through Earth’s atmosphere. But for the sake of NASA’s ongoing catalog of microbes found on the ISS, some lucky astronaut got to swab the station’s toilet for samples. They also swabbed the station’s Advanced Resistive Exercise Device, one of the exercise machines astronauts use on the ISS to keep up muscle mass during long periods living in microgravity.

A toilet on the ISS
The space toilet where astronauts collected microbial swabs
Jack Fischer, NASA

Based on their similarity to bacteria strains taken from patients on Earth, the analysis found that the strains isolated from the ISS swabs have a 79 percent probability that they could cause disease in humans. They contained genes associated with antibiotic resistance and toxic compounds.

"Given the multi-drug resistance results for these ISS E. bugandensis genomes and the increased chance of pathogenicity we have identified, these species potentially pose important health considerations for future missions,” the study's lead author, Dr. Nitin Singh, said in a statement. “However, it is important to understand that the strains found on the ISS were not virulent, which means they are not an active threat to human health, but something to be monitored." That means that while astronauts don't need to worry about these bacteria just yet, antibiotic resistance is an issue that NASA will need to prepare for in the future.

[h/t LiveScience]

New British Coin Featuring a Black Hole Honors Stephen Hawking

The Royal Mint
The Royal Mint

It has been one year since Stephen Hawking’s death, but the theoretical physicist’s life and legacy live on in both time and space. In an effort to immortalize the late scientist, Hawking’s words were beamed toward the nearest black hole last June, and now, he has his very own coin in the UK.

As New Scientist reports, The Royal Mint has created a 50-pence coin featuring a drawing representing a black hole, Stephen Hawking’s name, and an equation he co-created with Jacob Bekenstein to describe the entropy of a black hole. Though Hawking wasn't the first scientist to predict the existence of black holes, he devised mathematical theorems (like the one on the coin) that lent credence to their existence in the universe. He was also the first person to discover that black holes weren’t entirely black because they emit radiation, and are therefore capable of evaporating and disappearing.

Edwina Ellis, who designed the collector's coin, said she was inspired by a lecture Hawking gave in Chile in 2008. “Hawking, at his playful best, invites the audience to contemplate peering into a black hole before diving in,” Ellis said in a statement. “I wanted to fit a big black hole on the tiny coin and wish he was still here chortling at the thought.”

A different Stephen Hawking coin
The Royal Mint

The Royal Mint says the Hawking coin is the first in a new series that celebrates British innovation in science. The coins come in gold proof, silver proof, silver proof piedfort, and “brilliant uncirculated,” and they’re being sold on The Royal Mint’s website (although most are currently sold out). In recent years, UK coins have also commemorated Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

[h/t New Scientist]

First Person on Mars Will Likely be a Woman, Says NASA Boss

NASA astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann at an event in August 2018
NASA astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann at an event in August 2018
Bill Ingalls, NASA via Getty Images

In what is sure to be one giant leap for humankind, the head of NASA has announced that the first astronaut to set foot on Mars is “likely to be” female. As CNN reports, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine made the comment while appearing as a guest on a recent episode of Science Friday, a science and technology radio show.

At one point in the conversation, Bridenstine fielded a question from Grab Your Wallet Alliance co-founder Shannon Coulter, who asked in a tweet whether a woman would be involved in the next Moon landing, which could occur in 2028, if NASA gets its wish.

“The answer is absolutely,” Bridenstine answered. “In fact, it’s likely to be a woman—the first next person on the Moon. It’s also true that the first person on Mars is likely to be a woman.”

It is too early to tell which female astronauts might be eligible for the Mars mission, which is tentatively scheduled for the 2030s. However, Bridenstine said the space agency is committed to having a “broad and diverse set of talent.” Currently, 34 percent of active NASA astronauts are women. While the gender gap has not yet been closed, it’s still a significant change from 1978, when six women (including Sally Ride) became the first American female astronauts. In addition, women comprised half of the 2013 astronaut class and five of 12 astronauts in the 2017 class, as well as half of the most recent class of flight directors.

The first all-female spacewalk will take place on March 29, rounding out National Women’s History Month. Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch will be assisted by flight directors Mary Lawrence and Kristen Facciol on the ground during the roughly seven-hour spacewalk. These events typically involve making repairs to the International Space Station—a job that has traditionally been undertaken by men.

[h/t CNN]

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