Microgravity: living on the International Space Station
Microgravity: living on the International Space Station

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Microgravity: living on the International Space Station

3 ‘Space bugs’

As well as wondering what space travel does to a human body, it is also worth asking what does space travel do to microbes? Microgravity environments can alter their genetics, commanding the microbes to do things differently.

There are billions of microbes in the gut of one astronaut on the ISS. Many of them are very beneficial. For example, some produce vitamin K to help blood to clot; others help to digest food. It has been found, though, that in a microgravity environment the ability of Salmonella to cause disease is increased. Other bacteria, however, produce more helpful antibiotics in space than on Earth.

Now watch Video 3, which introduces ‘space bugs’, and then complete Activity 4.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 3
Skip transcript: Video 3 Sixty-second adventures in microgravity: space bugs.

Transcript: Video 3 Sixty-second adventures in microgravity: space bugs.

Space travel can be a bit of a challenge, not just because of what you might miss, but because space vessels can become heavily contaminated with staphylococcus, which might sound like a dinosaur, but is actually a type of bacteria. But sadly, in space, getting things clean isn't very easy. In fact, the first astronauts were worried that in microgravity environments, bacteria would become more powerful and resistant to antibiotics.
So because of all the effort and cost of working in a space environment, scientists recreate the effects of microgravity on Earth and experiment on bacteria in a very clever rotating chamber where the bacteria can breed and multiply, but don't know up from down. At a first glance, the bacteria appear to live and die very similarly to their Earth-born siblings. But it turns out that in microgravity, bacteria are likely to be less virulent than on Earth, which is not only good news for astronauts, but also good news for research into bacterial resistance and helping to keep things clean.
End transcript: Video 3 Sixty-second adventures in microgravity: space bugs.
Video 3 Sixty-second adventures in microgravity: space bugs.
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Activity 4 Bacteria in a microgravity environment

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Choose the correct option to answer the following questions.

1. What did scientists discover about bacteria in space, compared with those on Earth? They are:


less virulent




more virulent





The correct answer is a.

2. What type of chamber do scientists use to recreate a microgravity environment on Earth when experimenting with bacteria?




Horizontally moving






None at all

The correct answer is c.

3. What effect does this chamber have on the bacteria?


They can breed and multiply, and know the difference between up and down.


They can breed and multiply, but don’t know the difference between up and down.


They can’t breed and multiply, and don’t know the difference between up and down.


They can breed but they can’t multiply.


They can’t breed but they can multiply.

The correct answer is b.

You will now look at how random positioning machines are used in experiments.


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