Using Dual RNA-Seq To Explore Infection Of Human Cells During Spaceflight

 Astronauts go through a wide range of difficulties because of the hard conditions of spaceflight. Among these challenges are several infectious microbes that have a direct impact on the immune systems.

Here we are discussing the study done by Cheryl Nickerson and her colleagues from the Arizona State University. The study explains the infection of human cells through the intestinal pathogen salmonella typhimurium when the astronauts are in spaceflight. The study shows how microgravity environment in spaceflights alters the molecular structure of human intestinal cells. Moreover, there’s also a proof of how these expression patterns go on to change the response in infection. Researchers have also identified changes in the molecular profile of the bacterial pathogen when they are inside the infected host cells. (Barrila, et al. 2021)


The study focuses on how the human epithelial cells were cultured on the Space Shuttle mission STS-131. A subset of cultures were infected by salmonella, while some remained untouched. 

It was found out that there are global changes in RNA and protein expression in human cells. Also, there have been changes in the RNA expression in bacterial cells compared with ground-based control samples. This finding has proved the previous result that spaceflight causes an increase in infectious disease potential. 


Searching For a Familiar Adversary

Salmonella stains have caused more than 1.345 million foodborne infections, 26,5000 people to get admitted in hospitals, and more than 420 deaths in the US only every year, according to the Disease Control Centers. These strains have been infecting humans for a very long time. The pathogens enter the human system via the ingestion of dirty food and water. There it sticks to the intestinal tissue and invades it. The infection grows when the host and microbe react together. This movement is dictated by the biological and physical cues there in the tissue’s environment. 

Scientists are still working to understand the details of pathogenic infection in human cells. Salmonella happens to be one of the most invasive bacteria that has grown complicated over the years and is causing a lot of damages to the human immune systems. This bacteria thrives in strange conditions in the human stomach and intestine and works its way to harm the immune system, which is why it is a highly effective disease agent. 

This is seriously problematic for astronauts conducting spaceflight missions. Their immune systems and stomach functions are changed because of the hostile space travel. Moreover, the impact of low gravity along with other factors in spaceflight environment intensifies salmonella and other similar microbes. When these factors work together, they put space travelers at a high risk, especially because they are thousands of miles away from any medical facility. 

With the advancement in technology, we are expecting growth in space travel. People will be going on space travels more frequently. Therefore, any failure to stop bacterial infections can result in dire consequences. 


Hide and Seq

The study in discussion shows that the human epithelial cells have been infected with salmonella during spaceflight. Researchers have made efforts to see how the spaceflight environment alters the transcription of human and bacterial DNA into RNA. Furthermore, they also examined how the expression of the resulting suite of human proteins generated from the RNA code are affected. 

The research was also focused on the close evaluation of transcriptional profiles of all the pathogenic salmonella and human cells that are attacked. The protein expression of profiles of human cells were also examined to gauge the impact of the spaceflight environment on the host-pathogen dynamic. 

To make this happen, researchers utilized a procedure called the dual RNA-Seq. through this method, deep sequencing technology was applied which enabled the examination of host and pathogen behavior. This evaluation was done under microgravity while the infection process was going on. This process allowed the researchers to compare the team’s previous experiments done on the space shuttle. 

The findings of the study paved way for better efforts that can be taken to protect the health of astronauts. This can either be done through nutritional supplements or with the help of probiotic microbes. More studies on the topic can help clear many uncertainties attached with pathogenic infection along with the wide range of human diseases that are caused by these. 

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