It may sound like something out of science fiction, or perhaps a plot for bioterrorism, but NASA is sending the antibiotic resistant strain of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) to the International Space Station for the good of human kind.
MRSA has made headlines recently when it was discovered that some strains of it are resistant to all antibiotics, even the last resort medication that is given when all other antibiotics fail. In January, a Nevada woman passed away in a hospital from a strain of MRSA that none of her doctors could treat.
Currently, 90,000 Americans are infected with MRSA each year and 20,000 die from the bug.
With the alarming way doctors prescribe antibiotics so freely, many worry that resistant MRSA will become more and more frequent as the population develops immunity to the antibiotics that are currently available.
Sending this deadly superbug into space will actually allow biologists and researchers at the International Space Station (ISS) to help predict its future and how it will mutate.
The bug has been sent up with the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on February 18.
The intent is to utilize the atmosphere of microgravity on the ISS to the scientists’ advantage. Within this atmosphere, the colonies of MRSA will likely evolve much more quickly than they would on Earth, allowing scientists to both observe the mutations and create an antidote to the new strains before they are ever found near or infected in humans.
Anita Goel, CEO of the company Nanobiosym, who is also the project’s lead researcher, stated:
“We will leverage the microgravity environment on the ISS to accelerate the Precision Medicine revolution here on Earth. Our ability to anticipate drug-resistant mutations with Gene-RADAR will lead to next generation antibiotics that are more precisely tailored to stop the spread of the world’s most dangerous pathogens.”
Scientists, however, cannot be positive that MRSA will go into overdrive in space. However, the experiment is based on an educated guess from previous research. In 1999, a strain of E. coli was sent into space, where its mutations sped up, however the environment it was placed in determined the speed at which the bacteria began its evolution process with differing results in different locations.