Space Germs – the Next Cause of Concern?

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Image: Public domain Pictures/Linnaea Mallette

The coronavirus pandemic has strained the healthcare systems of nearly all countries around the world. Currently, the majority of health experts are working on coronavirus research or vaccine. At the same time, the current crisis has researchers thinking about similar public health threats in the future, including the danger of space germs.

Previously, there have been multiple epidemics throughout the centuries including Spanish flu from the early nineteenth century, the black plague, the dancing plague of Europe, and many others.

However, the ongoing coronavirus crisis may be worse than all previous plagues and may even last for years to be fully controlled, according to public health experts. Some experts, including Dr. Anothony Fauci, even believed that the virus cannot be eradicated completely due to its highly contagious nature.

If the coronavirus is difficult to control, how bad can the epidemics in the future be? Although the theory on space germs may not become a reality in the coming years, it can still be a possibility.

At the moment, there also actually no evidence to show space outside of earth can exist. So the risk of an extraterrestrial pathogen entering the Earth and causing a health crisis is very low but scientists state it is still a cause of concern given the increase in space missions.

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The deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Exeter, Professor Neil Gow, explained in a recent statement that “The world is now only too aware of the immune challenge posed by the emergence of brand new pathogens,”

He also added that researchers are now wondering whether the human immune system will be able to identify the space germs, just in case a pathogen from another planet does enter the Earth.

To test how the human immune system would react, a collaborative team of researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of Aberdeen designed an experiment with mice.

The reason for this is that the immune response and cells of mice have been noted to be similar to humans. These mice were then exposed to components that are likely to be present in germs from outer space, including specific amino acids like α-amino isobutyric and isovaline acids.

Both of these amino acids have been found in meteorites and not present in any microorganisms on the Earth. The team stated that these components would be ideal to test how would human immune systems react to space germs.

In the experiment, the researchers were specifically interested in checking the response of the human T cells which are a fundamental part of the immune system. However, it was noted that while the acids did trigger the T cells, the immune response was not strong.

Usually, the activation levels of the T cells in response to amino acids found in pathogens on Earth are eighty to ninety-one percent.

On the other hand, the level in the experiment was only fifteen to sixty percent. This shows that if space germs do cause a crisis in the future, it may be very difficult to control. These findings are now published in the journal Microorganisms. 

The leading investigator of the study, Dr. Katja Schaefer concluded that “contact with extra-terrestrial microorganisms might pose an immunological risk for space missions aiming to retrieve organisms from exoplanets and moons.”

 

 

 

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