Microbial Tracking Payload Series (Microbial Observatory-1) - 03.29.17
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
Microorganisms have always stowed away on spacecraft. As missions grow longer, the potential consequences of these uninvited passengers increase. Two fungal strains cultured in space and on Earth showed no significant difference between growth characteristics, metabolism, and susceptibility to chemical agents, suggesting fungi successfully adapt to space living. However, space strains appear more lethal to zebrafish larvae. Genetic sequencing of 20 moderately hazardous bacterial strains isolated from the space station allowed comparison to their Earth duplicates to determine microgravity’s influence on toxicity. Overall, space bacteria show increased resistance to antibiotics, affirming need for additional studies. Experiment Details
OpNom: Microbial Observatory-1
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)
NASA Research Office - Space Life and Physical Sciences (NASA Research-SLPS)
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery, Space Exploration
ISS Expedition Duration
September 2014 - September 2015; March 2016 - September 2016
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.
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.
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.
Operational Requirements and Protocols
Decadal Survey Recommendations
Plant and Microbial Biology P1
Plant and Microbial Biology P2
The complete elimination of germs within spacecraft and space habitats is not possible since human and even cargo are carriers of microorganisms. Fungal colonization of space vessels is nothing new, as various species have been found inside Skylab, Mir, and the International Space Station (ISS). Fungi have been reported to cause damage to electrical and structural components through the decomposition of wire insulation and window gaskets. As durations of manned space missions increase, it is crucial to understand the long-term consequence of microbial growth and exposure in a enclosed space environment. The on-going ISS Microbial Observatory Experiments examine the traits and diversity of microorganisms to better understand how they adapt to space living and how this may affect their interactions with crew members. Assessment of “test-tube” growth characteristics, metabolism, and susceptibility to chemical agents of two independent Aspergillus fumigatus strains, common opportunistic pathogens, isolated from the ISS revealed no outstanding differences between space and Earth that would suggest special fungus adaptation to life aboard the ISS. However, infection study of these fungi in zebrafish larva with immature immune system revealed that the ISS strains were significantly more lethal than their Earth counterparts. Also, 20 moderate health hazard bacterial strains from ISS were isolated, identified, and whole-genome sequences (WGS) were generated. Genetic comparison enables the determination of the microgravity influence on pathogenicity and virulence in these microorganisms. Overall, the space bacteria show increased resistance to one or multiple forms of antibiotics. Changes in the characteristics and population of microbial species combined with changes in the human immune system increase the risk for illness and disease. These findings affirm the need for additional studies of microbes physical traits and biological adaptation in microgravity and other extreme extraterrestrial conditions.^ back to top
Checinska Sielaff A, Singh NK, Allen JE, Thissen J, Jaing C, Venkateswaran K. Draft genome sequences of biosafety level 2 opportunistic pathogens isolated from the environmental surfaces of the International Space Station. Genome Announcements. 2016 December 29; 4(6): e01263-16. DOI: 10.1128/genomeA.01263-16. PMID: 28034853.
Knox BP, Blachowicz A, Palmer JM, Romsdahl J, Huttenlocher A, Wang CC, Keller NP, Venkateswaran K. Characterization of Aspergillus fumigatus isolates from air and Ssrfaces of the International Space Station. mSphere. 2016 September-October; 1(5): e00227-16. DOI: 10.1128/mSphere.00227-16. PMID: 27830189.
Ground Based Results Publications