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SpaceX Is Launching a Deadly Pathogen Into Space to Find a Cure

Feb 19, 2017 12:00 AM EST

There's an extremely lethal pathogen aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule on its way to space today, Feb. 18. Specifically, the Staphylococcus aureus, commonly called MRSA.

MRSA is a notoriously deadly strain of bacteria; a report from revealed that it actually kills more people than emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's Disease and homicide combined. Even worse, it's known to be resistant to a lot of penicillin-related drugs like methicillin.

So why are scientists sending it off to space?

The NASA-funded study is hoping that exposure of the bacteria to a microgravity environment will help scientists understand its mutation better. Bacteria can mutate faster in this environment and this could provide the team with a better look at the pathogen.

"Microgravity may accelerate the rate of bacterial mutations," lead researcher Dr. Anita Goel explained. "If we can predict future mutations before they happen, we can build better drugs."

While being trapped in a spacecraft with a lethal superbug may be the stuff of sci-fi thrillers, but the research team assured there's no danger to the astronauts onboard. The MRSA will be sealed in three levels of containment.

Funded by NASA, this project is also a product of a partnership between biomedicine company Nanobiosym and CASIS. The latter is the company that manages the space station's national laboratory.

According to a report from Gizmodo, this isn't the first time bacteria have been sent to space. Back in 1960, a Russian satellite discovered that bacteria E. coli, Aerobacter aerogenes, and Staphylococcus can survive in microgravity. This spurred multiple cases of bacteria making its way beyond Earth for observation.

An experiment in 2006 saw salmonella being extra deadly to mice after being sent to microgravity.

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