International Space Station is teeming with bacteria and fungi

Rodiano Bonacci
Aprile 10, 2019

Germs that exist in gyms apparently also hang out on the International Space Station.

An abundance of human-associated organisms discovered include Staphylococcaceae - which originate in the skin and in the nasal passage - and Enterobacteriaceae, which comes from the gastrointestinal tract.

Two flight engineers from the United States and Canada completed the third spacewalk of this year out of the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday to upgrade the space lab's power capability.

Microflora can have a range of impacts on human health, so it pays to know exactly what you're up against - especially in space. "In light of possible future long-duration missions, it is important to identify the types of microorganisms that can accumulate in the unique, closed environments associated with spaceflight, how long they survive and their impact on human health and spacecraft infrastructure".

"Specific microbes in indoor spaces on Earth have been shown to impact human health", said Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran, the study's co-author.

At 26 percent, the most prominent bacteria was Staphylococcus, followed by Enterobacter at 23 percent and Bacillus at 11 percent.

Over the course of three flights and 14 months, the astronauts collected and analyzed samples from eight locations within the space station, including the toilet, dining table, exercise room, viewing window and sleeping quarters.

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.

"On Earth, they are predominant in gyms, offices, and hospitals, which suggests that the ISS is similar to other built environments where the microbiome is shaped by human occupation", the study noted.

The ISS orbits 250 miles above Earth and has been visited over 222 times by astronauts, making the likelihood of freshly introduced bacteria a greater possibility.

He added that "biofilm formation on the ISS could decrease infrastructure stability by causing mechanical blockages, reducing heat transfer efficiency, and inducing microbial influenced corrosion".

"This would depend on a number of factors, including the health status of each individual and how these organisms function while in the space environment", said study first author Aleksandra Checinska Sielaff.

And numerous organisms detected on the ISS are known to form biofilms that belong to both bacterial (Acinetobacter, Sphingomonas, Bacillus, Burkholderia, Corynebacterium, and Klebsiella) and fungal (Penicillium, Aspergillus, Cryptococcus, and Rhodotorula) genera. Dr Venkateswaran hopes this data can help NASA improve on-board safety measures, and that they will pave the way to safe, deep space human habitation.

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