Microbial Tracking Payload Series (Microbial Observatory-1) - 11.22.16

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

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Along with orbital crew members and experimental payloads, the International Space Station (ISS) is home to a variety of microbes, which can threaten crew health and jeopardize equipment. The Microbial Payload Tracking Series (Microbial Observatory-1) investigation monitors the types of microbes present on ISS over a one-year period. Samples are returned to Earth for further study, enabling scientists to understand the diversity of the microbial flora on the ISS and how it changes over time.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Fathi Karouia, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: Microbial Observatory-1

Principal Investigator(s)
Kasthuri Venkateswaran, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, United States

George E. Fox, Ph.D., University of Houston, Houston, TX, United States
Duane L. Pierson, Ph.D., Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States
Douglas Botkin, Ph.D., Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
NASA Research Office - Space Life and Physical Sciences (NASA Research-SLPS)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery, Space Exploration

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2014 - September 2015; March 2016 - September 2016

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • For the Microbial Payload Tracking Series (Microbial Observatory-1) investigation, identification of the microbial diversity on ISS enables:
    • understanding risk to crew health in a closed environment for infection and illness.
    • understanding risk to fouling of clean air supplies and contamination of fluids and food.
    • understanding the similarities and differences between microbial communities on ISS and on Earth in nominal and extreme environments.
    • identifying which microbes flourish in the spaceflight and microgravity environment, which is important from a crew health perspective based on the published findings that pathogenic bacteria become more virulent in this environment.
    • studies into how microbes adapt to the microgravity and spaceflight extreme environment, which may provide insight in to individual and community adaptation to environmental changes.


As recommended by the National Research Council Decadal Survey, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) proposes to establish an International Space Station–Microbial Observatory (ISS-MO) to generate a microbial census of the space station’s surfaces and atmosphere using advanced molecular microbial community analysis techniques, supported by traditional culture-based methods and modern bioinformatics computational modeling.
The proposed ISS-MO establishment leads into a long-term, multigenerational study of microbial population dynamics. The ISS-MO project’s methodology serves as the foundation for an extensive microbial census, offering significant insight into spaceflight-induced changes in the populations of beneficial and potentially harmful microbes. Additionally, it provides NASA with both a mechanistic understanding of these changes (e.g., cataloging population changes and mapping/linking these to environmental niche and genomic changes), as well as insight into practical countermeasures for mitigating risks to humans and environmental systems. The ISS-MO team uses existing ISS sample collection technologies to generate an initial microbial census. Following their return to Earth, samples from the various ISS modules are analyzed using standardized technologies from the Mars Program-funded projects.
The proposed ISS-MO project includes the delivery of a database that compiles the genomic sequences and genetic information for all the microbes encountered within the ISS habitat. Using this data, NASA can more accurately and confidently assess the status of microbes associated with closed habitation and crew health maintenance. In addition to providing microbial profiles, the ISS-MO team identifies which microbial taxa pose particular threats to crew health. Furthermore, specific ISS-MO project aims shall enable scientists to resolve applicable NASA-Human Research Program integrated research plan risks.

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Space Applications
Millions of microbes live in and among humans on the ISS, where they can threaten crew members’ health. The Microbial Observatory-1 project uses microbial analysis techniques to establish a census of the microorganisms living on ISS surfaces and in its atmosphere. Culture-based analysis can help determine whether some microbes are more virulent in space, and which genetic changes might be involved in this response. A census database will provide a better understanding of microbe diversity on board the station, as well as genetic strategies for identifying specific subsets. Sampling the US modules three times during one year enables researchers to conduct long-term, multigenerational studies of microbial population dynamics. Results from this investigation can be used to evaluate cleaning strategies, and to mitigate microbe-related risks to crew health and spacecraft system performance.

Earth Applications
The Microbial Observatory-1 project provides a basis for using -omics strategies, including genomics, to screen for and identify specific types of microorganisms. The same techniques can be used to identify microbes in hospitals, pharmaceutical laboratories and other environments on Earth where microbe identification is crucial. Results from this investigation provide new insights into microbes’ metabolic pathways, which could be used to develop new drugs and antibacterial products to fight microbes on Earth.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

Surface and air sampling must be conducted within 2 weeks (+ 4 days) of the unberth of the Dragon spacecraft that returns the samplings to Earth. The samples are stored at room temperature. In case of a delay of the Dragon spacecraft’s return to Earth, the samples are stored in the Cold Stowage for up to two weeks until the unberth of the spacecraft. In case of longer delay, contact slides and adhesive tapes are kept in Cold Stowage whereas swabs, wipes, air filters, and used gloves are kept at -80°C. One crew member performs the sampling session that lasts for ~0.5 hours. Three sessions are required for the full length of the project. The sampling is performed on 8 specific locations inside the US modules for surfaces, and 6 locations for the air. The specific surface sampling locations are: the zero-G stowage rack (ZSR) surface and dining table inside Unity (Node 1); crew quarters (CQ3) interior port wall inside Harmony (Node 2); overhead hatch area of cupola, rack next to waste and hygiene compartment (WHC), and foot platform of the advance resistive exercise device (ARED) inside Tranquility (Node 3); the ZSR surface inside Leonardo PMM; and the rack front near portable water dispenser (PWD) inside Destiny (Laboratory). The air samples are collected inside the same modules as the surface samples.

Most of the sampling procedures have been performed in the past besides the one using polyester wipes. In summary, 8 wipes, swabs, contact slides (two types) and, adhesive tapes are used for surface sampling. Additionally, 6 locations are used to sample the air of the US module using a gelatin filter. The session can be non-continuous if needed; however, it needs to be performed by the same crew member and on the same day. For air sampling, the crew member uses the air sampling device which is currently on board the ISS. A new air filter is placed in the device. The instrument is used for several air cycles and is tethered so the crew member can perform other related tasks. For surface sampling with the polyester wipe, gloves are required to sample 1 m2 surfaces. One pair of gloves is used for each location. The polyester wipes and the gloves are collected in individual Ziploc bags. Swabs are used to sample 15 cm2 of a non-flat pre-defined surface. Two types of contact slides are used during each session at the 8 different locations to culture bacteria and fungi. These contact slides are collected in a bag with levels of containment. Finally, adhesive tapes are placed on surfaces to collected microorganisms from the ISS environment. Subsequently, the wipes and the other sampling devices are stored in a pre-label Ziploc bag. The sampling kit is stored at ambient temperature until the unberth of the Dragon Spacecraft.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Plant and Microbial Biology P1
Plant and Microbial Biology P2

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites

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