Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 March 2015
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely applied model organism in current biological science. As a widespread opportunistic pathogen, E. coli can survive not only by symbiosis with human, but also outside the host as well, which necessitates the evaluation of its response to the space environment. Therefore, to keep humans safe in space, it is necessary to understand how the bacteria respond to this environment. Despite extensive investigations for a few decades, the response of E. coli to the real space environment is still controversial. To better understand the mechanisms how E. coli overcomes harsh environments such as microgravity in space and to investigate whether these factors may induce pathogenic changes in E. coli that are potentially detrimental to astronauts, we conducted detailed genomics, transcriptomic and proteomic studies on E. coli that experienced 17 days of spaceflight. By comparing two flight strains LCT-EC52 and LCT-EC59 to a control strain LCT-EC106 that was cultured under the same temperature conditions on the ground, we identified metabolism changes, polymorphism changes, differentially expressed genes and proteins in the two flight strains. The flight strains differed from the control in the utilization of more than 30 carbon sources. Two single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and one deletion were identified in the flight strains. The expression level of more than 1000 genes altered in flight strains. Genes involved in chemotaxis, lipid metabolism and cell motility express differently. Moreover, the two flight strains also differed extensively from each other in terms of metabolism, transcriptome and proteome, indicating the impact of space environment on individual cells is heterogeneous and probably genotype-dependent. This study presents the first systematic profile of E. coli genome, transcriptome and proteome after spaceflight, which helps to elucidate the mechanism that controls the adaptation of microbes to the space environment.
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