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Center for Space Medicine

Using E. Coli to Identify Protection From Radiation During Deep Space Exploration

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E. coli is a type of bacteria that normally lives in our intestines. If you’re not well acquainted with the world of DNA damage and repair, you might be surprised to hear that E. coli is also a great model for replicating human DNA biology. The bacteria help researchers study how the human body reacts to external factors, including radiation exposure.

Too much exposure to radiation is extremely harmful to humans. In space, astronauts are exposed to approximately 50-2,000 millisieverts (mSv) while on a six-month mission. The risk of cancer caused by radiation is well documented at doses beginning at 100mSv and above. And on a three-year mission to Mars, exposure to radiation will be approximately four times greater than a trip to the Moon or the ISS.

Thanks to support from the Translational Research Institute for Space Health, Dr. Lindsey Haggett and her team at the Rosenberg lab at Baylor College of Medicine study the effects of radiation on the human body to help mitigate the adverse effects. Their goal is to rationalize the design of new drugs and pharmaceuticals that can potentially help regulate proteins to protect the body from radiation. This research enhances our understanding of how the body reacts to radiation exposure and could benefit astronauts and patients on Earth.

Dr. Haggett and her team have already identified several proteins that most naturally enhance the body’s resistance to radiation. And really, what better medicine is there than your own proteins to combat something as potentially extreme as radiation?