Astronauts fight off alien invaders

Astronauts on the space station are winning a battle against aliens that promises to save countless lives back on Earth. They have been fighting deadly superbugs that have invaded hospitals and clinics killing tens of thousands of patients.

International Space Station seen from shuttle Discovery
International Space Station seen from shuttle Discovery (ESA)

The spacemen’s weapon is a superhot, electrically charged gas called plasma developed by scientists.

They found it can zap viruses and super-strains of bacteria such as the drug-resistant MRSA – Staphylococcus aureus – and C difficile that are a major challenge in hospital wards.

Research into fighting the bugs in space has been led by Dr Gregor Morfill, of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, since 2001.

With European Space Agency backing, he is adapting the new space technology so that it can beat the superbugs at home and keep patients safe.

Dr Morfill said: “It’s the longest-running space experiment in the history of human spaceflight. What we have with plasma is the possibility to supplement our own immune system.”

Doctor and nurses have seen an alarming rise in superbugs that can survive even the strongest antibiotics. MRSA kills 37,000 people a year in the European Union alone and affects more than 150,000 patients.

A report in The Times in 2008 said that deaths from MRSA and C difficile in the UK had risen above 10,000 a year, though infection rates have fallen since then.

Dr Morfills’s team is adapting a cold plasma weapon that will wipe out the bugs by penetrating deep into cracks and crevices, unlike UV light that just disinfects surfaces.

Dr Morfill says his new system will use plasma’s innate antibacterial properties to make disinfection quick and easy.

He said: “It has many practical applications, from hand hygiene into food hygiene, disinfection of medical instruments, personal hygiene, even dentistry – this could be used in many, many fields.”

The technology could also be used to sterilise spaceprobes and satellites so that they do not carry Earthly contamination to other planets. Read the ESA report on this research here.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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