Task Evaluating the Spaceflight Infectious Disease Risk Potential of Pathogenic and Commensal microorganisms using Caenorhabditis elegans as a Human Surrogate Model for Infection (Completed)
Last Published:  11/23/20 11:55:12 AM (Central)
Short Title: Infection Model Pilot
Responsible HRP Element: Space Human Factors and Habitability
Collaborating Org(s):
Funding Status: Completed - Task completed and produced a deliverable
Procurement Mechanism(s):

Understanding the impact of the spaceflight environment on the disease-causing potential of a wide variety of pathogenic and commensal microbes is critical for ensuring crew health, safety and performance. Changes that occur to both the immune system of astronauts and pathogenesis of microbes during spaceflight could represent a formidable challenge to the successful transition from short-to-long duration missions. This is a critical issue to address since a) the crew’s immune system is dysfunctional during flight, and b) results from our collaborative team and others have demonstrated that spaceflight and/or spaceflight-analogue culture globally alters the virulence, gene expression and/or pathogenesis-related phenotypes of several microbial pathogens. This proposal aims to further to improve infectious disease risk assessment for astronauts by investigating the likelihood that a variety of microorganisms may exhibit alterations in virulence in response to the microgravity environment. We will accomplish this by profiling changes in virulence, persistence in the host, and targeted changes in gene expression of a select panel of pathogenic and commensal microorganisms exposed to spaceflight-analogue culture using the Rotating Wall Vessel (RWV) bioreactor. Microbes proposed for this study include 1) Salmonella Typhimurium, 2) Staphylococcus aureus, 3) a Space Shuttle environmental isolate of Burkholderia cepacia, and 4) Lactobacillus acidophilus, a commensal microorganism. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) will be used as a human surrogate model of infection to evaluate changes in microbial virulence in response to RWV culture and will also be profiled for targeted changes in the expression of genes important for host immunity. Moreover, as astronauts have dysfunctional immune systems during spaceflight, the susceptibility of an immunocomprised C. elegans mutant to infection with these same microbes will also be evaluated. Results from this work hold potential to provide deeper insight into the likelihood, consequence and respective uncertainties of this HRP risk.

This pilot study has been completed. Although the C. elegans model was successfully used with certain organisms as an infection host, its use with other organisms, including Staphylococcus aureus, did not provide relevant data. In addition, the ground-based C. elegans models did not replicate the findings of the traditional mouse models of infection.

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