ISS Bacteria Adapts to Thrive in Extreme Conditions

During the 2-year Microbial Tracking 1 mission, thirteen strains of Enterobacter bugandensis were isolated from various locations inside the International Space Station. Senior Research Scientist Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory studied how the isolated strains mutated under stress, and as a result became genetically distinct compared to their terrestrial forms.

Environments such as the ISS, known as ‘closed environments’ are unique in that they provide an extreme environment in which any microorganism that is introduced must adapt to survive these conditions. The levels of micro-gravity, radiation and elevated carbon dioxide were the focus of the study, with consideration of those factors as a major driving force behind the observed adaptions.

The presence of a thriving Enterobacter bugandensis aboard the ISS, a bacterium known for its infectious and pathogenic qualities, asks questions for future missions. Are astronauts safe from these potential threats? How might the bacterium alter the microbial environment in symbiosis, or in rebellion, with other microorganisms living on the station?

Most importantly, what will this unique adaptation in a very unexpected environment, reveal about microbiology overall?

For more information, read the scientific paper at the National Library of Medicine.

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