Microbial responses to microgravity and other low-shear environments

Cheryl A. Nickerson, C. Mark Ott, James W. Wilson, Rajee Ramamurthy, Duane L. Pierson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

278 Scopus citations


Microbial adaptation to environmental stimuli is essential for survival. While several of these stimuli have been studied in detail, recent studies have demonstrated an important role for a novel environmental parameter in which microgravity and the low fluid shear dynamics associated with microgravity globally regulate microbial gene expression, physiology, and pathogenesis. In addition to analyzing fundamental questions about microbial responses to space-flight, these studies have demonstrated important applications for microbial responses to a ground-based, low-shear stress environment similar to that encountered during spaceflight. Moreover, the low-shear growth environment sensed by microbes during microgravity of space-flight and during ground-based microgravity analogue culture is relevant to those encountered during their natural life cycles on Earth. While no mechanism has been clearly defined to explain how the mechanical force of fluid shear transmits intracellular signals to microbial cells at the molecular level, the fact that cross talk exists between microbial signal transduction systems holds intriguing possibilities that future studies might reveal common mechanotransduction themes between these systems and those used to sense and respond to low-shear stress and changes in gravitation forces. The study of microbial mechanotransduction may identify common conserved mechanisms used by cells to perceive changes in mechanical and/or physical forces, and it has the potential to provide valuable insight for understanding mechanosensing mechanisms in higher organisms. This review summarizes recent and future research trends aimed at understanding the dynamic effects of changes in the mechanical forces that occur in microgravity and other low-shear environments on a wide variety of important microbial parameters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-361
Number of pages17
JournalMicrobiology and Molecular Biology Reviews
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Infectious Diseases


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