Drug-resistant superbugs are infesting the International Space Station

Rob Waugh
Superbugs are thriving up there (Getty)

Strains of drug-resistant bacteria have been found in the toilet on the International Space Station – but researchers now hope to fight back.

Reearchers have warned that bacteria on the space station can get tougher, as they adapt to the harsh conditions in space – as they test a new antimicrobial coating to fight them off.

‘Spaceflight can turn harmless bacteria into potential pathogens,’ says senior study author Prof. Elisabeth Grohmann of Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin.

‘Just as stress hormones leave astronauts vulnerable to infection, the bacteria they carry become hardier, developing thick protective coatings and resistance to antibiotics, and more vigorous, multiplying and metabolising faster.’

Scientists tested a new antimicrobial coating based on silver and ruthenium – which reduced levels of bacteria on contamination-prone surfaces.

The find could pave the way for future missions to Mars.

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Grohmann said, ‘After 6 months exposure on the ISS, no bacteria were recovered from AGXX-coated surfaces.

Even at 12 and 19 months, a total of just 12 bacteria was recovered – a reduction of 80% compared to bare steel.

Grohmann said, ‘With prolonged exposure time a few bacteria escaped the antimicrobial action. The antimicrobial test-materials are static surfaces, where dead cells, dust particles and cell debris can accumulate over time and interfere with the direct contact between the antimicrobial surface and the bacteria.’

‘Most importantly, no serious human pathogens were found on any surface. Thus, the infection risk for the ISS crew currently is low.’

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