An antibiotic-resistant superbug will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the same Cape Canaveral pad where the first manned mission to the moon lifted off and will soon be studied by astronauts on the ISS.
Sending an antibiotic-resistant superbug to a zero-gravity environment like the International Space Station (ISS) will help NASA better understand how superbugs mutate to become resistant to available antibiotics.
Working in conjunction with NASA, an Indian-origin lead researcher Anita Goel said Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is resistant to the antibiotic methicillin and many others.
It can cause a variety of health problems, including sepsis, pneumonia and skin and bloodstream infections.
"We are excited to put MRSA on the International Space Station and investigate the effects of microgravity on the growth and mutation patterns of these bugs," Goel said at a NASA news conference.
"I have this hypothesis that microgravity will accelerate the mutation patterns. If we can use microgravity as an accelerator to fast-forward and get a sneak preview of what these mutations will look like, then we can essentially build smarter drugs on Earth," she added.
Goel was also interested to see the changes in the gene expression patterns of this bacteria.
"The DNA is like a piano. The info in the DNA sequence is only part of what makes the music of an organism," she said, adding, "The info embedded in the environment interplays with what is embedded in the DNA sequence, and together, they determine the music that the organism plays."
Research has shown that the "stressful conditions" at the space station cause fungi to grow faster.
"If we can use the ISS as an accelerator to know what future mutations of superbugs, we can use that info to develop smarter drugs that are more personalised and more precisely targeted to a bug or strain at hand," Goel said.
We can have those drugs ready before the mutations even show up on Earth, she noted.