Microbiology & Virology

Microbial Adaptation To Spaceflight Is Correlated With Bacteriophage-encoded Functions

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
Nature Communications
May 16, 2024
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Microbial Adaptation To Spaceflight Is Correlated With Bacteriophage-encoded Functions
Left panel: all prophage encoded proteins in each species. Right panel: the subset of prophage-encoded proteins that confer a unique function to their host. *Conservation score: mean of the functionally unique protein count divided by the total prophage protein count for each functional category. Phage-related proteins and uncharacterized/hypothetical proteins were excluded from the figure. — NASA via Nature communications

Evidence from the International Space Station suggests microbial populations are rapidly adapting to the spacecraft environment; however, the mechanism of this adaptation is not understood. Bacteriophages are prolific mediators of bacterial adaptation on Earth.

Here we survey 245 genomes sequenced from bacterial strains isolated on the International Space Station for dormant (lysogenic) bacteriophages. Our analysis indicates phage-associated genes are significantly different between spaceflight strains and their terrestrial counterparts.

In addition, we identify 283 complete prophages, those that could initiate bacterial lysis and infect additional hosts, of which 21% are novel.

These prophage regions encode functions that correlate with increased persistence in extreme environments, such as spaceflight, to include antimicrobial resistance and virulence, DNA damage repair, and dormancy.

Our results correlate microbial adaptation in spaceflight to bacteriophage-encoded functions that may impact human health in spaceflight.

Purple shaded area: Node 3; sampling locations: Cupola (L1), Waste and Hygiene Compartment (L2), Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) (L3), Green shaded region: Node 1; sampling locations: dining table (L4), overhead 4 (L5), Yellow shaded region: Permanent Multipurpose Module; sampling locations: (L6), Blue shaded region: US Lab sampling locations: Lab Overhead 3 (L7), Orange shaded region: Node 2; sampling locations: crew quarters (L8). Images courtesy of NASA.

Microbial adaptation to spaceflight is correlated with bacteriophage-encoded functions, Nature Communications (open access)


Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻