Microbes on International Space Station Are Familiar From Earth

NASA TV broadcast an excellent view of the sun setting on two astronauts on a spacewalk.                  Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser  CNET

NASA TV broadcast an excellent view of the sun setting on two astronauts on a spacewalk. Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser CNET

According to what a new study has found, fungi and bacteria are all over the International Space Station, and they can form biofilms that promote antibiotic resistance and cause diseases.

The microbes that the NASA scientists discovered came mainly from humans, and they share some similarities with those found in offices and public buildings here on Earth.

It also features a touchscreen, speaker and a microphone, along with a mechanical arm that enables it to handle cargo or running experiments.

Looking at the microbes, the researchers explained that these bacteria on ISS were mostly human-associated. Also, Astrobees is a key for future missions to the moon and beyond.

Self-portrait of Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the Cupola module of the International Space Station observing the Earth below during Expedition 24.

The station's components were built in sterile environments before being sent into orbit and routine monitoring has taken place since.

Dr Kasthuri Venkateswaran, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the corresponding author said: "Specific microbes in indoor spaces on Earth have been shown to impact human health".

Whether these opportunistic bacteria could cause disease in astronauts on the ISS is unknown. This allowed researchers to examine if and how the microbial and fungal populations differed between locations and over time.

They included organisms that are considered opportunistic pathogens on Earth.

At 26 percent, the most prominent bacteria was Staphylococcus, followed by Enterobacter at 23 percent and Bacillus at 11 percent. There are a lot of factors that could make them sick or not, but the most important fact is the health status of each on the space station.

What they found was a thriving community of microbes, but while the fungal groups were relatively stable over time, the bacterial groups appeared to fluctuate along with the ever-changing crew.

"Some of the microorganisms we identified on the ISS have also been implicated in microbial induced corrosion on Earth". The authors suggest that these temporal differences may be due to the different astronauts on board the ISS. "However, the role they play in corrosion aboard the ISS remains to be determined", says Dr Urbaniak, joint first author of the study.

Numerous organisms detected were seen as harmful to astronauts because they contain properties that resist antibiotics. Just like any other communal space in which humans find themselves, it too could pose a threat to our health.

The study provides the first comprehensive understanding of the bacteria and fungi found on surfaces in enclosed space systems.

Additionally, the findings might be vital in the understanding of "confined built environments" on our own planet, such as medical and pharmaceutical clean rooms, according to the study.

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