There has been debate among Americans regarding the benefits of space-based research. That debate may well be over due to a recent announcement from the Astrogenetix Company based in Austin, Texas. A vaccine for salmonella may go to human trials as early as next year. If these trials are approved it will mark the first time that a space-based medicine has gone this far in development. It could also go a long way to silence some critics of the U.S. space program. Astrogenetix has worked with NASA on numerous occasions, flying experiments on over 20 space shuttle missions.
Salmonella is a bacterium that causes disease by the eating of infected foods. There are 40,000 cases of salmonella infection in the United States every year, with 600 people dying from the bacteria.
Bacteria and viruses do not grow the same way in space as they do here on earth. They become more virulent and grow faster in the micro-gravity environment of space. There is a positive side to bringing these strains into space – they allow for experiments to be accomplished far more quickly and for weaknesses within the disease to be more easily discovered – and exploited. The genes responsible for the discovered weakness are removed from the bacteria and vaccines are developed. Running these experiments in space allows scientists to rapidly increase the rate at which they conduct these experiments.