Monday, March 28, 2016

Bacteria that Grows Better in Space than on Earth

Space is devoid of air and nutrients.  It's a vacuum that allows no life to exist outside of a sealed environment.  However, one of the many ongoing research projects in space is seeing how things fair in space that normally do well on earth.  For example, the human body, materials, and even small microorganisms are studied in space to determine the effect of space on each item.  And interestingly enough, bacteria don't really have a problem growing in a controlled environment in space.

"A lot of people as us 'why' we sent microbes into space," said Dr. David Coil, who is a lead author on this study and a microbiologist at UC Davis.  "Understanding how microbes behave in microgravity is critically important for planning long-term manned spacecraft but also has the possibility of providing new insights into how these microbes behave in human constructed environments on Earth."

After completing this experiment, however, one species of bacteria tested grew even better in space than on Earth.

Bacillus safensis, the bacteria that grew better in space, is found quite commonly here on earth.  In fact, its name is derived from its discovery on the outside of spacecraft in Florida and California.  Now this bacteria wasn't discovered when the spacecraft returned from space, it was discovered after assembly here on earth.  Its an aerobic Gram (+) bacteria (this means that the bacteria contains a thicker layer of peptidoglycan) who doesn't have any abnormal traits that differentiate it from any other bacteria on earth in terms of generic characteristics.

This bacteria, along with 47 other samples of microorganisms that were swabbed from multiple public locations as part of a nationwide citizen science project called Project MERCCURI, were sent up into space to be studied.  Most of not all of the organisms that were identified were determined to be normally found on the International Space Station (ISS).  However, it is completely unknown as to why Bacillus safensis grew 60% even better in space.

Granted, this discovery doesn't pave the way to cure cancer or anything of the sort.  However, the aspect that some bacteria can grow more efficiently in microgravity is a fantastic discovery.  From this, there is a possibility that we could isolate genes or specific features from this bacteria and use genetic engineering to grow other microorganisms or even food in microgravity.  Astronauts being able to grow vegetables and other foods within their ships as they travel through space could be a possibility if specific genes are isolated from within the genome of Bacillus safensis is a very cool thought.  Again, this is all speculation, but in the future of space travel and exploration, this could be a big discovery.

PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Alexiev, UC Davis (CC BY 4.0)

To read more about this experiment, check out the PeerJ article here:

In addition, another news story about this discovery can be read here:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Eliminating Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases affect numerous people throughout the world.  Rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis; they are all diseases we have heard of before.  The prospect of a treatment being possible is a tough obstacle to climb, for autoimmune diseases are incredibly hard to treat.  How soon could we expect some sort of drug that would help us combat such diseases?

Well, the wait may only be a little bit longer.

Scientists from Russia, Germany and Great Britain have recently created a prototype of a new antibody-based drug for autoimmune diseases.  This new drug, being called MYSTI (Myeloid-Specific TNF Inhibitor), focuses on the Tumer Necrosis Factors (TNF) produced by macrophages in the body.  This protein belongs to the family of cytokines, which help control inflammation, counterbalance tumor formation, and regulate the immune system against a plethora of diseases.  However, there are two sides to this small protein.  The "good" TNFs help the body by performing the actions listed above.  The "bad" TNFs are ones that do not function correctly and can promote serious diseases in the body.

In order to create a drug that would focus on the bad TNFs without harming the good TNFs, the scientists focused on bispecific antibodies.  EurekAlert gives a specific but brief description of bispecific antibodies:

Each B-lymphocyte produces against a particular antigen only one antibody type consisting of two pairs of heavy and light chains. Though scientists learned long time ago to produce artificial, 'chimeric' antibodies that are able to stick to two proteins simultaneously with various Fab-fragments. Such antibodies are called bispecific. One of its advantages - a possibility to connect different cells using such an antibody - this was already used to produce effective cure for several kinds of tumors. In antibody bioengineering field, a particular type of antibodies from camel, lama or shark, which contain only heavy chains, can be used. 

By utilizing these bispecific antibodies, the team of researchers successfully created a sample of bispecific antibodies that selectively inhibit the bad TNFs without altering the function of the good TNFs.  "This work lasted nearly ten years. The article describes only the tip of the iceberg," said Sergei Nedospasov, who was the main author of this study.  In addition, this research proves through scientific means that it is entirely possible to focus on a specific cytokine and produce it through a particular type of cell lineage.

Granted, this does not mean that the cure for cancer and all autoimmune diseases is at hand.  However, this is an incredible step into learning more about these diseases and finding a successful treatment that will help millions of people around the world.

More information on this topic can be found here:

The scientific paper that was published on this topic can be found here: