Researchers combat ISS superbugs using a new antibacterial surface coating

One of the great fears of the medical community are so-called superbugs. A superbug is something resistant to most, or all of the antibiotics that we have at our disposal today. Researchers are trying to find ways to eliminate superbugs in an unlikely location- the ISS.

You might think of space as being a sterile environment, but the inside of the ISS is not thanks to astronauts bringing bacteria and viruses with them. One real challenge for astronauts and researchers is that being in space reduces the immune system of astronauts, and provides a place perfect for bacteria to mutate into something more virulent or harder to kill. Researchers have started testing a new surface coating that helps reduce bacteria on the space station.

The surface coating is called AGXX, and it contains both silver and ruthenium. When the coating is conditioned with a vitamin derivative, it kills all sorts of bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and fungi. The effect of the coating is similar to using bleach according to the researchers. The coating was tested on one of the most contaminated surfaces on the ISS- the toilet door.

The AGXX coating proved very effective according to the researchers; after six months of exposure, no bacteria were recovered from AGXX-coated surfaces. When tested at 12 and 19 months, only 12 bacteria were recovered. Effectiveness is reduced over time because dead cells, dust, and cell debris can stick to the surface and interfere with direct contact to the material.

Researchers say that no serious human pathogens were recovered from the ISS making the infection risk very low. Scientists say that new ways to reduce infection is required for manned mission to Mars and beyond.