Mammalian cells can fight space microbes

Scientists from the Universities of Aberdeen and Exeter in the UK have tested how mammalian immune cells reacted to peptides (combinations of amino acids) commonly found in space. It turned out that the immune system of mammals, including humans, can respond to these microbes and fight them, the University of Exeter said.

However, the immune response to these “foreign” peptides was “less effective” than the response to those common on Earth.

A study in mice, whose immune cells function in the same way as humans, suggests that extraterrestrial microorganisms could pose a threat to space missions and on Earth.

The world is now all too aware of the problem of immunity caused by the emergence of completely new pathogens. We wondered what would happen if we were exposed to a microorganism that was removed from another planet or moon where life evolved. Will our immune system be able to detect proteins derived from these extraterrestrial building blocks?

Neil Gow, Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Exeter.

Researchers have studied the response of T cells, which are key to our immunity, to peptides containing amino acids commonly found on meteorites: isovaline and α-aminoisobutyric acid.

As a result, organisms reacted in 15% of cases to the first pathogen and in 61% of cases to the second. When exposed to peptides consisting exclusively of amino acids, which are common on Earth: 82% and 91%.

As a result, the scientists concluded that contact with extraterrestrial microorganisms could pose an immunological risk for space missions, despite the fact that an immune response was present during testing.