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posted on 16.03.2018, 08:13 authored by Thomas R. Aunins, Keesha E. Erickson, Nripesh Prasad, Shawn E. Levy, Angela Jones, Shristi Shrestha, Rick Mastracchio, Louis Stodieck, David Klaus, Luis Zea, Anushree Chatterjee

Bacteria grown in space experiments under microgravity conditions have been found to undergo unique physiological responses, ranging from modified cell morphology and growth dynamics to a putative increased tolerance to antibiotics. A common theory for this behavior is the loss of gravity-driven convection processes in the orbital environment, resulting in both reduction of extracellular nutrient availability and the accumulation of bacterial byproducts near the cell. To further characterize the responses, this study investigated the transcriptomic response of Escherichia coli to both microgravity and antibiotic concentration. E. coli was grown aboard International Space Station in the presence of increasing concentrations of the antibiotic gentamicin with identical ground controls conducted on Earth. Here we show that within 49 h of being cultured, E. coli adapted to grow at higher antibiotic concentrations in space compared to Earth, and demonstrated consistent changes in expression of 63 genes in response to an increase in drug concentration in both environments, including specific responses related to oxidative stress and starvation response. Additionally, we find 50 stress-response genes upregulated in response to the microgravity when compared directly to the equivalent concentration in the ground control. We conclude that the increased antibiotic tolerance in microgravity may be attributed not only to diminished transport processes, but also to a resultant antibiotic cross-resistance response conferred by an overlapping effect of stress response genes. Our data suggest that direct stresses of nutrient starvation and acid-shock conveyed by the microgravity environment can incidentally upregulate stress response pathways related to antibiotic stress and in doing so contribute to the increased antibiotic stress tolerance observed for bacteria in space experiments. These results provide insights into the ability of bacteria to adapt under extreme stress conditions and potential strategies to prevent antimicrobial-resistance in space and on Earth.