Germ-infested is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the International Space Station. But so it is, according to a new study published in the journal, PeerJ.
The study states that the ISS contains over 4 thousand microbe species. While dirty is the first thing that comes to mind, the co-author of the study, David Coil, believes this to be healthy.
„Diversity is generally associated with a healthy ecosystem,” said the Universtiy of California at Davis microbiologist.
Healthy is a basic notion, however, as Coil states that further study on these types of bacteria is required to fully understand their usefulness in future space missions.
Coil’s research was based on several samples he collected in 2014 from the citizen science program, Project MERCCURI. They are an initiative formed by a group of National Football League and National Basketball Association cheerleaders who are also scientists and engineers.
Project MERCCURI went through dozens of sports stadiums and gathered microbes in samples with the goal of sending them aboard the International Space Station to see whether they could thrive in low gravity.
The UC Davis scientists, who partnered on the project, asked the astronauts on the ISS to swab down the space station and return the samples to Earth in return.
15 sites on the ISS were swabbed for bacteria samples, including the audio terminal unit microphone, air vents, and the tab used to close the privacy panel in the crew sleep compartment.
The locations were specifically chosen because they were similar to place found in a regular home. After the UC Davis scientists received the germs, they sequenced their genomes and identified between 1 and 4 thousand operational taxonomic units. A taxonomic unit is a biological measure to identify the number of bacteria species. The scientists then compared the number of ISS bacteria to the number of microbiomes in humans and their homes.
The results showed the ISS to be mostly dominated by human bacteria, specifically those that stay on the skin. What’s more interesting is that the ISS microbiome can be altered with each crew as they are the carriers of many germs on the station.
„I fully expected the ISS surfaces to look like human skin… which it, for the most part, did,” said Jenna Land, the study’s first author.
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