ISS is basically a bacteria-filled locker room, study finds

Astronaut Stephen K. Robinson STS-114 mission specialist anchored to a foot restraint on the International Space Station's Canadarm2 participates in the mission's third session of extravehicular activity

Astronaut Stephen K. Robinson STS-114 mission specialist anchored to a foot restraint on the International Space Station's Canadarm2 participates in the mission's third session of extravehicular activity

Where humanity goes, microorganisms boldly follow.

In this handout image provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) ... Just like any other communal space in which humans find themselves, it too could pose a threat to our health. The study - the first comprehensive catalogue of the bacteria and fungi on the inside surfaces of the ISS - can be used to develop safety measures for NASA for long-term space travel or living in space. This would depend on a number of factors, including the health status of each individual. "In light of possible future long-duration missions, it is important to identify the types of microorganisms that can accumulate in the unique, closed environments associated with spaceflight, how long they survive and their impact on human health and spacecraft infrastructure".

Despite the exotic setting, the team used pretty run-of-the-mill culture techniques to sample the microflora of eight different locations inside the ISS.

The microbes on the ISS were mostly human-associated.

But the International Space Station is teeming with bacteria and fungi - partly from the 227 astronauts who have passed through its airlock in the past two decades. They included organisms that are considered opportunistic pathogens on Earth such as Staphylococcus aureus, and Pantoea and Bacillus.

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But it's not all about the crew. They argue that the integrity of the ISS itself should also be investigated, given that some of the microbes they found are associated with corrosion.

"Also, biofilm formation on the ISS could decrease infrastructure stability by causing mechanical blockages, reducing heat transfer efficiency, and inducing microbial influenced corrosion", the authors add.

Explaining "the potential ability to form biofilms and the magnitude of actual biofilm formation on ISS surfaces is important during long-term space missions to maintain structural stability of the crew vehicle when routine indoor maintenance can not be easily performed", the report reads.

What they found was a thriving community of microbes, but while the fungal groups were relatively stable over time, the bacterial groups appeared to fluctuate along with the ever-changing crew. Samples taken during the second flight mission had higher microbial diversity than samples collected during the first and third missions.

Additionally, the findings might be vital in the understanding of "confined built environments" on our own planet, such as medical and pharmaceutical clean rooms, according to the study.

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