Study of Microbial Communities Exposed to Weightlessness (Sample) - 11.22.16

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Study of Microbial Communities Exposed to Weightlessness (Sample) will show how microbes are carried into space by humans and end up on surfaces and equipment in the International Space Station (ISS), as well as how microbes survive, adapt and possibly multiply on ISS. Sample will also indicate if there are "hot spots" (places where microbes grow most easily) on ISS; this will make it possible to take appropriate measures to keep ISS clean and the crewmembers healthy.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Hermie J. M. Harmsen, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Erasmus Experiment Archive.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Hermie J. M. Harmsen, Ph.D., University of Gronigen, Groningen, Netherlands

John E. Degener, Ph.D., M.D., University of Gronigen, Groningen, Netherlands
Paolo Landini, Ph.D., Umwelt-Mikrobiologie und Molekulare Oekotoxikologie, Duebendorf, Switzerland
Gjalt W. Welling, Ph.D., University of Gronigen, Groningen, Netherlands

Dutch Space, Leiden, Netherlands

Sponsoring Space Agency
European Space Agency (ESA)

Sponsoring Organization
Information Pending

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
October 2003 - October 2004; October 2005 - April 2006; September 2006 - April 2007

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
The Sample investigation has been performed on ISS Expeditions 8 and 11.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Sample will investigate how to control hygiene in closed environments. Spacecraft surroundings should be clean and microbiologically safe, since there is no escape from it. A contributing factor is that crewmembers carry microbes into space. The human body contains 1014 (one hundred trillion) microbes, on the skin, in the oral cavity and in the abdomen.

  • Most of these microbes are harmless or beneficial to human health, but some are pathogenic. It is believed that under weightlessness in space, pathogenic microbes become even more dangerous and may pose a threat to the crewmembers. Therefore, there is a need to control the numbers of bad microbes.

Sample will evaluate which microbial species might benefit from growth conditions on board the International Space Station (ISS). This investigation will focus on potentially pathogenic and destructive microbes to determine the origin and distribution of species on different sample sites. To complete the Sample investigation the changes of normal microbiota (microbes of an area) of crewmembers and the relation with the microbiota in the ISS during space flight will be determined. Sample will investigate the mechanism of microbial adaptation to microgravity and study if there is microbial adaptation to weightlessness. Sample will also determine how exposure to weightlessness can affect adhesion properties of microorganisms.

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Space Applications
Based on Sample results, a machine may be designed that can monitor microbial growth in space, without sending samples to Earth. Developers of future habitability procedures can use the knowledge gained from this experiment to better protect crew health on long duration missions.

Earth Applications
Sample will generate knowledge and tools to investigate hygienic conditions in hospitals. Sample techniques, are currently being used to analyze the spread of microbes in intensive care units (ICUs), with special attention to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
From several selected sites of the ISS, duplicate samples are collected. The samples are taken by rubbing swab sticks over a defined surface. The sampling sites include buttons, keyboards, personal care appliances; places where there is a large amount of contact between crew and surface. Furthermore, wall panels and other places where condensation creates moist surfaces are sampled. In addition, electrical wires that produce some heat that might favor microbial growth and places with visible microbial growth are sampled. Samples of various body parts are taken from one of the crewmembers. As a ground control, similar samples are taken during a test or training period in which the cosmonaut is exposed to a large amount of stress. This is to evaluate normal fluctuation of the microbiota on Earth under stress conditions.
Samples of ISS and resident crewmembers are taken for further culturing and analysis on Earth. These samples need to be placed in a protective gel medium to keep microbes alive. From these samples, bacterial strains will be isolated on Earth and screened for unusual adhesion abilities. To understand if exposure to weightlessness can affect adhesion properties of microorganisms, experiments are carried out using cultures of a model bacterium, Escherichia coli. The bacteria are grown in liquid medium under weightless conditions. In these conditions, either physiological adaptation of the culture or insurgence of mutations in the bacterial population might take place. Either event might lead to increased biofilm formation compared to that observed for the same Escherichia coli strain growth in the same conditions on Earth, in normal gravity conditions. Scientist's will then analyze and characterize the precise molecular event leading to biofilm formation.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Results Publications

    Van Tongeren SP, Krooneman J, Raangs GC, Welling GW, Harmsen HJ.  Microbial detection and monitoring in advanced life support systems like the International Space Station. Microgravity Science and Technology. 2007 June; 19(2): 45-48. DOI: 10.1007/BF02911866.

    Van Tongeren SP, Roest HI, Degener JE, Harmsen HJ.  Bacillus anthracis-Like Bacteria and Other B. cereus Group Members in a Microbial Community Within the International Space Station: A Challenge for Rapid and Easy Molecular Detection of Virulent B. anthracis. PLOS ONE. 2014; 9(6): e98871. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0098871. PMID: 24945323.

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Ground Based Results Publications

    Van Tongeren SP, Degener JE, Harmsen HJ.  Comparison of three rapid and easy bacterial DNA extraction methods for use with quantitative real-time PCR. European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases. 2011 February 11; 30(9): 1053-1061. DOI: 10.1007/s10096-011-1191-4.

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

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Related Websites
The information on this page is provided courtesy of the ESA Erasmus Experiment Archive.
Columbus Mission - European Experiment Programme

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image ESA Astronauts, Andre Kuipers (right) and Gerhard Thiele (left) in training for Sample at Star City, Russia. Photo courtesy of Hermie Harmsen, Ph.D., University of Gronigen.
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