Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

David M. Klaus

Second Advisor

Louis Stodieck

Third Advisor

Macarena Parra

Fourth Advisor

JoAnn Silverstein

Fifth Advisor

Sedat Biringen


spaceflight; however, the underlying mechanisms responsible for this outcome are not fully understood. In particular, it is not yet clear whether this observed response is due to increased drug resistance (a microbial defense response) or decreased drug efficacy (a microgravity biophysical mass transport effect). To gain insight into the differentiation between these two potential causes, an investigation was undertaken onboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014 termed Antibiotic Effectiveness in Space-1 (AES- 1). For this purpose, E. coli was challenged with two antibiotics, Gentamicin Sulfate and Colistin Sulfate, at concentrations higher than those needed to inhibit growth on Earth. Phenotypic parameters (cell size, cell envelope thickness, population density and lag phase duration) and gene expression were compared between the spaceflight samples and ground controls cultured in varying levels of drug concentration. It was observed that flight samples proliferated in antibiotic concentrations that were inhibitory on Earth, growing on average to a 13-fold greater concentration than matched 1g controls. Furthermore, at the highest drug concentrations in space, E. coli cells were observed to aggregate into visible clusters. In spaceflight, cell size was significantly reduced, translating to a decrease in cell surface area to about one half of the ground controls. Smaller cell surface area can in turn proportionally reduce the rate of antibiotic molecules reaching the cell. Additionally, it was observed that genes –- in some cases more than 2000 –- were overexpressed in space with respect to ground controls. Up-regulated genes include poxB, which helps catabolize glucose into organic acids that alter acidity around and inside the cell, and the gadABC family genes, which confer resistance to extreme acid conditions. The next step is to characterize the mechanisms behind the observed gene expression, its implications, and most importantly, how this knowledge can help prevent the acquisition and spread of antibiotic resistance in pathogens on Earth.