A superbug in space: NASA sends MRSA bacteria to International Space Station

NASA launched a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Feb. 19 with an unusual occupant — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, according to a CNN report. The superbug has been sent to the International Space Station to be studied by astronauts.

The goal is to study MRSA in a zero gravity environment to examine how superbugs mutate and evolve to acquire antibiotic resistance. The International Space Station, an orbiting laboratory, performs hundreds of experiments each day. Researchers on the space station will study how environment affects MRSA's "gene expression patterns," according to the report.

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Previous studies have shown the environmental conditions of the space station cause fungi to grow more quickly than usual. Lead researcher Anita Goel, MD, PhD, said that identifying changes like that in MRSA could be beneficial for discovering new treatments and medications.

"If indeed we can use the ISS as an accelerator, an incubator, to know what future mutations of superbugs like MRSA will be, we use that info to develop better algorithms on Earth to inform drug discovery and faster ways to get to smarter drugs that are more personalized and more precisely targeted to a bug or strain at hand," Dr. Goel told CNN. "We can have those drugs ready before the mutations even show up on Earth."

Antibiotic-resistant MRSA can cause a numerous clinical issues, from sepsis to pneumonia to bloodstream infections, according to the CDC.

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