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PLoS Pathog. 2020 Jan 30;16(1):e1008153. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1008153. eCollection 2020 Jan.

Immune recognition of putative alien microbial structures: Host-pathogen interactions in the age of space travel.

Author information

1
Department of Internal Medicine and Radboud Center for Infectious Diseases, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
2
Department for Genomics & Immunoregulation, Life and Medical Sciences Institute (LIMES), University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany.
3
Department of Laboratory Medicine and Radboud Center for Infectious Diseases, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
4
Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Science, Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
5
School of Biosciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom.

Abstract

Human space travel is on the verge of visiting Mars and, in the future, even more distant places in the solar system. These journeys will be also made by terrestrial microorganisms (hitchhiking on the bodies of astronauts or on scientific instruments) that, upon arrival, will come into contact with new planetary environments, despite the best measures to prevent contamination. These microorganisms could potentially adapt and grow in the new environments and subsequently recolonize and infect astronauts. An even more challenging situation would be if truly alien microorganisms will be present on these solar system bodies: What will be their pathogenic potential, and how would our immune host defenses react? It will be crucial to anticipate these situations and investigate how the immune system of humans might cope with modified terrestrial or alien microbes. We propose several scenarios that may be encountered and how to respond to these challenges.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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