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June 10, 2024

IIT Madras and NASA Collaborate to Study Multidrug-Resistant Pathogens on the ISS

Researchers from IIT Madras and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are delving into the behavior, adaptation, and evolution of multidrug-resistant pathogens in an extraordinary environment—the International Space Station (ISS), approximately 400 kilometers above Earth. This collaboration aims to understand how these pathogens, specifically Enterobacter bugandensis, adapt and evolve in the unique conditions of space, offering insights with significant implications for both space and terrestrial health.

The Unique Challenges of Spaceborne Pathogens

Astronauts on the ISS face distinct health challenges due to altered immune conditions and limited access to traditional medical facilities. Understanding the microbial landscape aboard the ISS is crucial for assessing the impact of these microorganisms on astronaut well-being. The findings from this study are not only vital for space missions but also hold promise for improving patient care in controlled settings on Earth, such as hospital intensive care units and surgical theaters, where multidrug-resistant pathogens pose substantial challenges.

Comprehensive Study on Enterobacter Bugandensis

The research team conducted an in-depth study focusing on the genomic, functional, and metabolic enhancements observed in multidrug-resistant pathogens, with a particular emphasis on Enterobacter bugandensis. This nosocomial pathogen is prevalent on surfaces within the ISS, making it an ideal subject for understanding pathogenic potential in space environments.

The study highlights the critical need to investigate how microorganisms adapt and thrive in space to safeguard astronaut health and mitigate risks associated with opportunistic pathogens. The collaborative efforts between IIT Madras and NASA’s JPL underscore the importance of international partnerships in advancing scientific knowledge and addressing the unique challenges of space exploration.

Insights from the Researchers

Karthik Raman from the Department of Data Science and AI at the Wadhwani School of Data Science and AI (WSAI) at IIT Madras commented on the significance of the research, stating, “Microbes continue to puzzle us by growing in the most challenging conditions. Studies such as these help us unravel the complex web of interactions underlying microbial growth and survival in unique environments.”

Kasthuri Venkateswaran, Senior Research Scientist at JPL, NASA, emphasized the broader implications of the research: “Our research uncovers how certain benign microorganisms help the opportunistic human pathogen E. bugandensis adapt and survive in the unfavourable conditions of the International Space Station.”

Key Findings and Applications

The research team identified detailed genomic features and potential antimicrobial resistance mechanisms within E. bugandensis strains isolated from various ISS locations. Some of the key real-world applications of this research include:

  • Targeted Antimicrobial Treatments: Understanding the genomic adaptations of multidrug-resistant E. bugandensis can aid in developing targeted antimicrobial treatments.
  • Microbial Contamination Management: Insights into the persistence and succession patterns of E. bugandensis in space can inform strategies for managing microbial contamination in closed environments like spacecraft and hospitals.
  • Broad Methodological Applications: The methodology used in this study, which integrates genomics, metagenomics, and metabolic modeling, can be applied to study microbial dynamics in other extreme environments, potentially improving our understanding of microbial ecology and adaptation.


This research was undertaken by Karthik Raman from WSAI at IIT Madras, Kasthuri Venkateswaran from JPL, NASA, along with research scholars Pratyay Sengupta, Shobhan Karthick MS from IIT Madras, and Nitin Kumar Singh from JPL, NASA. Their work not only contributes to safeguarding astronaut health but also offers potential solutions for managing multidrug-resistant pathogens in critical environments on Earth. The collaborative nature of this study exemplifies the power of international partnerships in tackling some of the most pressing scientific challenges.

Read more latest news on R9 News

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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