Nasa to explore microbes of space station

Nasa is seeking proposals from researchers to analyse the microbial communities inside the space station to determine how the communities colonise, adapt and evolve


A file photo of space station. AFP/Nasa
A file photo of space station. AFP/Nasa

Washington: Nasa is planning to analyse the microbes that people have brought with them — and left behind — on the International Space Station to better understand how to control the microbial environment in future human exploration spacecraft.

More than 200 people have crossed the airlock threshold to the International Space Station (ISS) to conduct research that benefits people on Earth and the US space agency’s Journey to Mars.

The microbes they brought with them — and left behind — are the focus of a new collaborative research opportunity from Nasa and the non-profit Alfred P Sloan Foundation.

Humans bring microbes everywhere they go — some of which reside inside the body, such as the intestinal tract. Others are outside the body on skin and clothes, for example. When these collective microbial communities enter a human-made environment like the ISS they create their own microbial ecosystem known as the Microbiome of Built Environments (MoBE).

Now, Nasa is seeking proposals from researchers to analyse the microbial communities inside the space station to determine how the communities colonise, adapt and evolve.

The researchers will have access to a collection of space station microbial samples gathered over a decade or more, and archived at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston.

“Nasa is incredibly excited to partner with the Sloan Foundation through a Space Act Agreement to look at the microbiome of the space station to better understand how to control the microbial environment in future human exploration spacecraft,” said David Tomko, space biology programme scientist at Nasa.

Microbiome research on the space station is an important area of research for Nasa as it prepares astronauts for future long duration spaceflight.

The agency will upload resulting data and analysis onto the open science GeneLab platform to allow for further review from the research community. Sloan and Nasa plan to use results in GeneLab to allow for further development of experiments by the research community

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