While it has been shown that astronauts suffer immune disorders after spaceflight, the underlying causes are still poorly understood and there are many variables to consider when investigating the immune system in a complex environment. Additionally, there is growing evidence that suggests that not only is the immune system being altered, but the pathogens that infect the host are significantly influenced by spaceflight and ground-based spaceflight conditions. In this study, we demonstrate that Serratia marcescens (strain Db11) was significantly more lethal to Drosophila melanogaster after growth on the International Space Station than ground-based controls, but the increased virulence phenotype of S. marcescens did not persist after the bacterial cultures were passaged on the ground. Increased virulence was also observed in bacteria that were grown in simulated microgravity conditions on the ground using the rotating wall vessel. Increased virulence of the space-flown bacteria was similar in magnitude between wild-type flies and those that were mutants for the well-characterized immune pathways Imd and Toll, suggesting that changes to the host immune system after infection are likely not a major factor contributing towards increased susceptibility of ground-reared flies infected with space-flown bacteria. Characterization of the bacteria shows that at later timepoints spaceflight bacteria grew at a greater rate than ground controls in vitro, and in the host. These results suggest complex physiological changes occurring in pathogenic bacteria in space environments, and there may be novel mechanisms mediating these physiological effects that need to be characterized.
Keywords: Infection; Innate immunity; Microbiology.
© This is a U.S Government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S; foreign copyright protection may apply 2020.
Conflict of interest statement
Competing interestsThe authors declare no competing interests.
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