A Galactic Battle … Against Salmonella

By Ashley Phillips

Mar 24, 2009 2:13pm

ABC News’ Brian Hartman and Cullen Dirner report: The war against salmonella is also being waged in outer space. While Earth-bound government workers struggle to regulate deadly illnesses out of the food system, NASA’s high-flying astronauts are running experiments on salmonella aboard the International Space Station. This morning, President Obama called astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, currently linked with the space station, and handed the phone to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.    "We’ve had some salmonella problems here on Earth," the senator informed the astronauts. "What do you think you will be able to learn from the environment in space that maybe you couldn’t learn here on Earth?" The shuttle crew had no idea. "My job as an astronaut was basically to turn the crank and activate the experiment," one of the astronauts said. "And then after about four or five days, I’ll turn the crank again and deactivate it. I’m not exactly sure what the scientists are gonna do with the data back at home or with these samples." In fact, in several years of testing NASA scientists have learned that space travel triggers changes in salmonella cells that may one day eliminate outbreaks like the recent peanut scare. In an announcement about the experiments, Julie Robinson, program scientist for the International Space Station at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the studies could change the food safety landscape. "This research opens up new areas for investigations that may improve food treatment, develop new therapies and vaccines to combat food poisoning in humans here on Earth, and protect astronauts on orbit from infectious disease." 

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