NanoRacks-Comparison of the Growth Rate and DNA Characterization of Microgravity Exposed Microbial Community Samples (NanoRacks-Project MERCCURI) - 11.22.16
Microbial communities differ among people, buildings, cities and countries, even the International Space Station (ISS), and these differences can affect human health. NanoRacks-Comparison of the Growth Rate and DNA Characterization of Microgravity Exposed Microbial Community Samples (NanoRacks-Project MERCCURI) engages members of the public to collect samples from high-touch surfaces around the United States, from stairs at sports venues to hand railings at schools, and sends them to space to compare how various microbial communities grow on the ground and in microgravity. The investigation also studies the microbes found on high-touch surfaces on board the ISS. Science Results for Everyone
Microbes in space! Or, at least, inside the International Space Station (ISS), which, apparently, has a microbial community much like any building on earth. Aided by citizens who took many samples of microbes from different surfaces in a variety of locations in cities around the US, scientists grew 48 of the collected common bacteria aboard the ISS. Of these, 45 showed similar growth to those on Earth. Three – Bacillus safensis, Bacillus methylotrophicus, and Microbacterium oleivorans – showed different growth activity and only B. safensis significantly so. Further work may reveal why some bacteria behaved differently in space. Better understanding of microbial communities aboard the station helps to keep crew members healthy and may have implications for crewed spaceflight. Experiment Details
OpNom: NanoRacks Module-27
Jonathan Eisen, Ph.D., University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States
David Coil, United States
Wendy Brown, Ph.D., M.L.A, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States
Darlene Cavalier, Ph.D., SciStarter.com, Philadelphia, PA, United States
Russell Neches, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States
Mark T. Severance, M.S., SciStarter, Columbia, MD, United States
Summer Williams, ScienceCheerleader.com, Webster, TX, United States
NanoRacks LLC, Webster, TX, United States
Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
National Laboratory (NL)
Scientific Discovery, Space Exploration
ISS Expedition Duration
March 2014 - September 2014
NanoRacks-Comparison of the Growth Rate and DNA Characterization of Microgravity Exposed Microbial Community Samples (NanoRacks-Project MERCCURI) compares the growth rates of microbes collected from various public venues both in a lab at University of California, Davis (UC Davis), and onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The growth rates are measured using a spectroscopic plate reader that has been installed on the ISS by NanoRacks. This plate reader is a modified version of the same plate reader that is used at UC Davis to measure growth.
The microbes in this study are harmless (and potentially beneficial).
It is essential to understand how microgravity affects the growth of microbes commonly found in our environment, because we bring our microbes with us everywhere we go, and they are an important component of a healthy environment.
In addition to the microbial growth experiments, DNA sequencing is used to characterize the microbes found on several surfaces aboard the ISS. These surface samples are collected by crewmembers using sterile cotton swabs.
Citizen scientists and students help collect microbial samples from the surfaces of their cell phones and shoes. Although the crewmembers don’t have cell phones and shoes, they collect samples from analogous surfaces onboard the ISS so that everyone can compare the cell phone and shoe microbes found at their event to those found onboard the ISS.
It is anticipated that a significant level of citizen and student scientists engagement will occur, thus promoting greater awareness of microbial community science, the science experiments and operations onboard the ISS, and all partnering organizations affiliated with the experiment.
NanoRacks-Comparison of the Growth Rate and DNA Characterization of Microgravity Exposed Microbial Community Samples (NanoRacks-Project MERCCURI) has two components. First, it compares the growth rates of microbes isolated from samples collected from surfaces at ground-based public venues, both on Earth at University of California, Davis (UC Davis) and in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station (ISS). Second, this study characterizes the microbial communities found on surfaces aboard ISS using culture-independent methods. The NanoRacks Plate Reader (Molecular Devices Spectra Max M5e Microplate Reader) is used to conduct these studies. Additionally, samples from analogous surfaces within the ISS are returned to Earth for DNA sequencing in the laboratory of Dr. Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis.
Citizen and student scientists collect data for the ground-based component of this experiment as a component of ongoing research in the microbiology of the built environment, as well as citizen scientist engagement projects, conducted at UC Davis. The experiment is also part of an ongoing citizen science and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education programs facilitated and conducted by SciStarter.com, ScienceCheerleader.com, and their affiliated partners. Participation in the experiment by citizen and student scientists includes basic educational information on microbial communities, microbiology of the build environment research, and the ISS itself.
Many microbes grow differently in space, forming thick biofilms and reproducing faster. Examining how space flight affects microbe growth provides new insights into how gravity, fluid dynamics, and nutrient availability affect biofilm formation. The investigation also collects microbe samples from the ISS, which undergo DNA sequencing and growth analysis once they return to Earth. Understanding microbial communities on the station, and how they grow differently in microgravity and on the ground, helps researchers develop antibiotic countermeasures to safeguard crew health in space.
Citizen scientists collect microbe samples to be flown in space, in coordination with education programs facilitated by SciStarter.com, ScienceCheerleader.com, and their partners. Participation in the experiment exposes members of the public to basic information on microbial communities and microbiology, as well as the space program. Researchers also aim to convey that microbes are everywhere and can be beneficial as well as harmful to human health. The investigation paves the way for future advanced biology and pharmaceutical research in microgravity, as well as possible new treatments for diseases.
Operational Requirements and Protocols
Crewmember swabs 15 different locations with the NanoRacks Swab Kits. Swabs are returned. Three plates are analyzed with the plate reader. Plates are returned.
A crewmember sets up a camcorder to record surface swab operations throughout the US Lab. The crewmember retrieves a clean NanoRacks Swab Kit and moves to the ISS location listed on the Swab Kit label. A cotton swab is removed from NanoRacks Swab Kit, being careful not to touch the cotton swab tip to avoid contamination. The cotton swab is rubbed vigorously against the designated surface. The cotton swab is returned to the NanoRacks Swab Kit. Spectral analysis of three microplate samples is completed using the NanoRacks Plate Reader.
Decadal Survey Recommendations
Information Pending^ back to top
It has been determined that the interior of the International Space Station (ISS) has a microbial community similar to the inside of buildings on Earth. Previous work growing bacteria in space has focused on species known to cause illness such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and less attention has been paid to the harmless microbes around us. Although concern about pathogens in spacecraft is very important, it should be emphasized also that the ability of a pathogen to survive outside a host and to infect are both dependent, at least in part, on the co-existing community of benign microbes. This study, part of Project MERCCURI (Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers on ISS), takes samples, usually with collaboration of the public, from human-associated surfaces (e.g., toilets, doorknobs, railings, floors, etc.) at a variety of locations around the United States. A wide variety of bacteria were cultured from these samples, and 48 harmless strains were selected for comparing growth on the ISS versus on Earth. The vast majority of species tested in this experiment have also been found previously from environmental surveys of the ISS. Of the 48 strains sent to the ISS, 45 of them showed similar growth. Only three bacteria showed a difference: Bacillus safensis, Bacillus methylotrophicus, and Microbacterium oleivorans, and only one strain showed significantly different growth in space. Bacillus safensis grew 60% better in space than on Earth. Further work on Bacillus safensis could lead to interesting insights on why this strain grew so much better in space.^ back to top
Coil DA, Neches RY, Lang JM, Brown W, Severance MT, Cavalier D, Eisen JA. Growth of 48 built environment bacterial isolates on board the International Space Station (ISS). PeerJ. 2016 March 22; 4: e1842. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1842. PMID: 27019789.
Ground Based Results Publications
Coil DA, Flanagan JC, Stump A, Alexiev A, Lang JM, Eisen JA. Porphyrobacter mercurialis sp. nov., isolated from a stadium seat and emended description of the genus Porphyrobacter. PeerJ. 2015 November 12; 3: e1400. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1400.
Coil DA, Benardini JN, Eisen JA. Draft genome sequence of Bacillus safensis JPL-MERTA-8-2, isolated from a Mars-bound spacecraft. Genome Announcements. 2015 December 31; 3(6): e01360-15. DOI: 10.1128/genomeA.01360-15.
Coil DA, Eisen JA. Draft genome sequence of Porphyrobacter mercurialis (sp. nov.) strain Coronado. Genome Announcements. 2015 December 31; 3(6): e00856-15. DOI: 10.1128/genomeA.00856-15.
Darlene Cavalier, the founder of Science Cheerleaders, swabs the crack in the Liberty Bell to collect microbes for NanoRacks-Comparison of the Growth Rate and DNA Characterization of Microgravity Exposed Microbial Community Samples (NanoRacks-Project MERCCURI). Microbiologists at the University of California, Davis cultured Bacillus megaterium from this swab, and are using it for an experiment aboard the ISS. Image courtesy of National Park Service.
+ View Larger Image
For the investigation, NanoRacks-Comparison of the Growth Rate and DNA Characterization of Microgravity Exposed Microbial Community Samples (NanoRacks-Project MERCCURI), astronauts swab the surfaces on this checklist for microbial DNA which is then sequenced by Jack Gilbert of the Earth Microbiome Project. Image courtesy of Jenna Lang.
+ View Larger Image
The growth of microbes collected from various surfaces from 48 different venues are measured in the tiny “petri dishes” in this 96-well plate for NanoRacks-Comparison of the Growth Rate and DNA Characterization of Microgravity Exposed Microbial Community Samples (NanoRacks-Project MERCCURI). The growth measurements are taken using the NanoRacks Plate Reader. Image courtesy of David Coil.
+ View Larger Image
Bacteria can take on many beautiful forms when they grow on a solid surface. This one was collected from a doorknob at a Yuri’s Night party in New York. One goal of NanoRacks-Comparison of the Growth Rate and DNA Characterization of Microgravity Exposed Microbial Community Samples (NanoRacks-Project MERCCURI) is to look for differences in growth rate of bacteria when exposed to microgravity. Image courtesy of Alex Alexiev.
+ View Larger Image