BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Science/Nature  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Friday, 15 November, 2002, 13:25 GMT
Fighting bacteria in space
Astronaut repairing Hubble Telescope (AP)
Astronauts face various hazards, including bacteria
A device to detect extra-terrestrial bacteria is being developed by US space agency (Nasa) researchers.

It is designed to hunt out deadly mutated strains that are unknown on Earth.

It will be used at first to safeguard the health of orbiting astronauts.


If you get sick in space, you don't have a hospital around the corner for treatment

Dr George Fox
Eventually, it could also be used on Earth to diagnose infections or to detect biological hazards.

The research is being carried out by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, a Nasa-funded consortium studying health risks in space.

"We are not specifically looking for deadly mutated bacteria," said George Fox, professor of biology and biochemistry at the University of Houston, Texas.

"We are more concerned about preventing everyday infections because, if you get sick in space, you don't have a hospital around the corner for treatment. Our goal is to avoid infections with routine monitoring to keep bacteria levels low in the first place."

Radiation hazard

Astronauts spend months in the same quarters, breathing recycled air and drinking recycled water.

This makes space stations an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Furthermore, weightlessness and higher radiation levels may increase the mutation rate of bacteria.

"Because of space's unidentified effects on bacteria and the immune system, we don't know which organisms will cause problems," Dr Fox added. "However, we have developed a technique to determine an organism's approximate identity."

The device uses knowledge of the genetics of bacteria to pinpoint DNA sequences that are common to certain groups.

In theory, it should be able to detect extra-terrestrial bacteria that are similar to those found on Earth.

Current methods rely on targeting a specific organism and would not pick up related, but unknown, bugs.

See also:

31 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
30 Dec 99 | Science/Nature
12 Aug 99 | Europe
12 Feb 99 | Science/Nature
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Science/Nature stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Science/Nature stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes