Toilets are more than just an essential home item or a giant bowl for our dogs to drink out of. According to the International Space Station, their toilets do more than just remove waste. In this case, a simple toilet can be credited for the discovery of new drug-resistant bacteria.
‘Superbugs’ aren’t a new concept when it comes to the bacterium world; microorganisms that have developed a resistant to drugs and medications, they are difficult to treat and research on them is ongoing. Scientists’ goal is to examine the bacteria and organisms that exist in space to gain a wider understanding of how our planet fits into the universal spectrum of things.
Back in 2015, 105 different bacterial strains that astronauts were exposed to while in orbit were analyzed. Of those, the scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory discovered 5 unique ones to be strains of Enterobacter. This is a cause of numerous infections in humans, with their key trait of having developed a resistance to multiple drugs.
Ironically, there is no singular astronaut or scientist that can be credited with this discovery. Instead, it was found on a “waste and hygiene compartment,” NASA’s fancy, scientific term for a toilet.
The good news is that this bacterium, with other strains also found on exercise equipment, are not a threat to astronauts. However, because of their unique environment, they do have a significant chance of becoming pathogenic to humans, should exposure and contamination ever occur. Yet, the environment of space is drastically different than that of Earth, so there is still much research to be done in order to determine any potential affects they could have.
There are two main takeaways here: there is still much to learn about space and microbiology; and NASA refers to a toilet as a “waste and hygiene compartment.”