NASA shared its latest discovery, and this time it does not talk about human exploration on Mars, Lunar landing, and possible life on another planet. Instead, its recent finding scares Astronauts, as it claims that the ISS is infested with bacteria that could harm space travelers.
A team of NASA researches, including an Indian-origin scientist has discovered that the surface inside the International Space Station (ISS) is littered with microbes, just like an ordinary public place on earth which threatens astronauts’ health at orbiting the laboratory. According to the study conducted, the knowledge on the microbial and fungal communities on the ISS can be used to develop safety precautions for future missions.
NASA confessed in the open access journal Microbiome, that specific microbes in indoor spaces on Earth have been shown to have negative implications on human health. This is also the same with what they have found in ISS surfaces, which can also create significant impact and will weaken the health status of spacemen on their long term space travel.
NASA added that the said microbes would help the space organization to develop and create ways, as well as, preventions on how to stop these bacteria from infecting every astronaut. Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and a corresponding author said that the discovery is necessary for the astronauts during spaceflight, as they have altered immunity and do not have access to the sophisticated medical interventions available on Earth.
Today, it is widely reported to understand the possible real danger spacemen will be facing throughout their journey outside earth; if the bacteria has not been identified earlier. The researchers, whose primary goal is to keep these explorers away from any potential harm including microbial invasion, used several techniques to analyze the surface of ISS.
They mainly used traditional culture techniques and gene sequencing methods to analyze surface samples collected in eight locations on the ISS, which includes the viewing window, toilet, exercise platform, dining table and sleeping quarters, during three flights across 14 months. This allowed researchers to examine if and how the microbial and fungal populations differed between locations and over time.
Significant results were delivered after the examination and made available to interpretation by the NASA people. The authors indicated that fungal communities were stable, meaning to say they remain unchanged throughout the entire duration of the test. On the other hand, microbial communities were similar across locations but changed over time.
Looking at the microbes, the researchers explained that these bacteria on ISS were mostly human-associated. The most noticeable bacteria were Staphylococcus, Pantoea, and Bacillus. Staphylococcus is a bacterium that typically occurs in clusters resembling grapes, inhabits the skin and mucous membranes usually, and may cause disease.
These bacteria commonly infect the skin, eyes, and urinary tract, and some produce toxins responsible for septicemia (known as blood poisoning), and food poisoning. They included organisms as well that are considered opportunistic pathogens on Earth, such as Staphylococcus aureus which is common in the nasal passage, and Enterobacter that is associated with the human gastrointestinal tract.
What is odd about the findings is that the microbes found are predominant on earth’s public places like gyms, offices, and hospitals which suggest that the ISS is similar to other built environments where the microbiome is shaped by human occupation, according to the study.
However, the researchers do not have a concrete idea whether these opportunistic bacteria could cause diseases in astronauts on the ISS – since it would depend on many factors including the health status of each and how these organisms function while in the space environment. So far, there are six astronauts on board the International Space Station, and their health conditions are reportedly in a good state.
The study provides the first comprehensive understanding of the bacteria and fungi found on surfaces in enclosed space systems. This is a great help and assistance for NASA to improve its safety measures to meet the requirement needed to survive in the thickest part of space on human exploration. Also, the detection of possible disease-causing organisms highlights the importance of further studies to examine how these ISS microbes function in the area.
The results also have a significant impact on human understanding of other confined built environments on earth such as clean rooms used in the pharmaceutical and medical industries. Since the microbes on NASA’s ISS are no different than what we have on Earth, humans will have a deeper comprehension of bacteria found in ordinary public places.