Combatting antibiotic resistance with Martian soil: new research on Mars could lead to new medicines

An image of the Martian soil which could lead to new medicines
© ESA-DLR-FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Research into Martian soil to help humans live on Mars could lead to new medicines to combat antibiotic resistance.

A research team tested Martian soil and found a potential solution for antibiotic resistance on Earth.

The context for the discovery about Martian soil

A team of students led by Dennis Claessen, associate professor at the Institute of Biology in Leiden University, the Netherlands, iGEM International Genetically Engineered Machine competition with a solution to the problem of growing non-toxic plants on Martian soil, for humans to live there.

Prof.Claessen explained: “The soil on Mars has perchlorate chemical compounds in it, which can be toxic for humans…Our students started ‘building’ a bacterium that would degrade the perchlorate to chlorine and oxygen, but they needed to know whether that bacterium would behave the same way in the partial gravity of Mars as it would on Earth.”

The students used a random positioning machine to reproduce Mars gravity on Earth.

The Random Positioning Machine

© Airbus

The Random Positioning Machine (RPM) was developed by the Dutch office of Airbus for ESA to do experiment in zero or reduced gravity here on Earth without going into space. The RPM rotates any enclosed experiment ‘randomly’ to minimise the influence of Earth’s gravity, thereby simulating what would be experienced in space. The original models could successfully simulate zero gravity, typically referred to as microgravity. The newer RPM 2.0 can additionally simulate partial gravity, which is between 0g and 1g.

Antibiotic resistance: How the discovery could lead to new medicines

Derk Schneemann at Verhaert Netherlands, commented: “During their experiments they noticed that when bacteria grew in partial gravity, they became stressed as they accumulated waste around them that they couldn’t get rid of. This holds great potential because when microbes belonging to the Streptomyces family become stressed, they usually start making antibiotics.

Schneemann added: “Seventy percent of all the antibiotics humans use are derived from Streptomyces bacteria and we know they have the potential to produce even more. Using the RPM to stress them in new ways may help us to find ones we’ve never seen before.”

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