It's Alive!

The International Space Station has long been known as a unique — and uniquely gross — environment. But according to a new NASA study, it has stuff growing on it that is straight-up alien, too.

In a press release, NASA said that when scientists from the Jet Propulsion Lab looked at samples of the drug-resistant Enterobacter bugandensis bacteria found on the orbital outpost, they found that the strains had mutated into something that literally doesn't exist on Earth.

"Study findings indicate that under stress, the ISS isolated strains were mutated and became genetically and functionally distinct compared to their Earth counterparts," the press release reads. "The strains were able to viably persist in the ISS over time in significant abundances."

What's even crazier: E. bugandensis was apparently able to not only coexist "with multiple other microorganisms," but was also demonstrated in some cases to "have helped those organisms survive."

Published in the journal Microbiome, a paper on the new study details how JPL researchers isolated 13 distinct strains of the gastrointestinal bacteria, which was discovered in 2018 and is associated with severe illnesses, including sepsis in newborns.

Wall Mart

According to the paper, the strains studied in the new research were "isolated from various locations within the ISS," along with all the other nasty stuff that causes its peculiar smell. Along with E. bugandensis, NASA has been studying other potentially harmful viruses, fungi, and bacteria as part of its second microbial tracking mission, which has astronauts literally scrape the ISS walls and put what they find under microscopes to see how weird they got.

"Closed human-built environments, such as the ISS, are unique areas that provide an extreme environment subject to microgravity, radiation, and elevated carbon dioxide levels," the press release explains. "Any microorganisms introduced to these areas must adapt to thrive."

And thrive it did! According to the study, E. bugandensis not only survived in the confines of the space station, but actually seemed to have become even more drug-resistant, placing it within the "ESKAPE pathogen group" comprised of several bugs that are known for "formidable resistance to antimicrobial treatments."

This study, the researchers insist, will help better contribute to the understanding of genetic evolution of pathogens and ultimately add to science's growing understanding of how to stay healthy in space.

For us on Earth, however, it's just another reminder that for all the damage we've done to our planet, we're still very lucky not to be trapped in space with mutated terrestrial germs.

More on the ISS: Departing Astronauts Leave Sticky Brown Surprise in Space Station

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