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Spaceflight Alters Bacterial Social Networks

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When astronauts launch into space, a microbial entourage follows. And the sheer number of these followers would give celebrities on Twitter a run for their money. The estimate is that normal, healthy adults have ten times as many microbial cells as human cells within their bodies; countless more populate the environment around us. Although invisible to the naked eye, microorganisms – some friend, some foe – are found practically everywhere.

Microorganisms like bacteria often are found attached to surfaces living in communities known as biofilms. Bacteria within biofilms are protected by a slimy matrix that they secrete. Skip brushing your teeth tomorrow morning and you may personally experience what a biofilm feels like.

One of NASA’s goals is to minimize the health risks associated with extended spaceflight, so it is critical that methods for preventing and treating spaceflight-induced illnesses be developed before astronauts embark upon long-duration space missions. It is important for NASA to learn how bacterial communities that play roles in human health and disease are affected by spaceflight.

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