Research into Martian soil could lead to new antibiotics

The medical field is faced with a very hard to win battle with all sorts of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics. Increasingly resistant bacteria could mean infections that are hard or impossible to cure leading to the death of sick people. Researchers working on helping humans to live on Mars might be able to help with the problem of drug-resistant bacteria. One challenge for living on Mars is that the soil there has perchlorate chemical compounds in it.

Those compounds can be toxic for humans because high doses of the chemical can inhibit the thyroid's uptake of iodine among other issues. Researchers from the Institute of Biology at Leiden University, the Netherlands have started to build a bacterium that could degrade the perchlorate to chlorine and oxygen. As part of that process, the team needed to know if the new bacterium would behave the same way on Mars in partial gravity as it does here on Earth.

The scientists reproduced the gravity of Mars using a random positioning machine. That machine continually changes its orientation at random, so items placed inside have no chance to adjust to steady gravity in one direction. The machine can simulate partial gravity in stages between Earth normal and weightless.

The boost for medicine on Earth comes in the bacteria growing in partial gravity being stressed by waste accumulated around them that the bacteria was unable to get rid of. The boost here is that when microbes in the Streptomyces family are stressed, they often start making antibiotics. The team notes that 70% of the antibiotics we use today are derived from Streptomyces.

Growing the bacteria in the random positioning machine could lead to antibiotics we have never seen before and that bacteria would have no immunity to. The discovery is a big deal because finding new antibiotics is one of the most significant areas of research in the medical field.