Survival of the fittest bacteria

Microbes have reached everywhere, we humans have been striving so hard to achieve the space, but microorganisms managed to reach there too and survive without any space suits. Scientists are researching to identify what are the reasons behind such a strong immunity and what are the mechanisms these microbes follow to survive even in the harshest of the environment like a spacecraft.

Contamination on a spacecraft doesn’t sound very usual. Space, where there is the only vacuum, has become home of microbes as soon as humans started spending time there. The journal Astrobiology written by  Professor Rakesh Mogul offers evidence and insight to this matter. He along with professor Gregory A. Barding, Jr., and 22 other co-authors including 14 Chemistry undergraduates, 3 Chemistry Graduates along with 5 Biology students designed a project to give the students a hands-on experience of Space.

Nasa is cautious in maintaining hygiene and keeping pathogens outside the spacecraft which is very important because the microorganisms can suggest the presence of life in space triggering a false report. This could waste a lot of time and money since then NASA would be working in a wrong direction. These students, however, proved that despite all the precautions taken, microorganisms found a way to live inside the spacecraft.

This may have begun when plants were being sent in controlled conditions to space. However, no such statement has come from NASA. Spacecraft microbiome including bacteria, archaea, and fungi was extracted from the Mars Odyssey and Phoenix spacecraft facilities. Research is being made to identify the factors which promote their growth and help them in their survival in such a nutrient restricted atmosphere. 

Albeit of all the vigorous clinical cleaning procedures on the spacecraft’s assembly, clean rooms still harbor a possibility of growth and survival for these microbes. Research has shown that cultures could grow on ethyl alcohol taking it as a sole source of carbon. In high radiation environments, oxidative stress – like that on Mars – too would have played some role in the growth of these microorganisms. Nothing can be said for sure. But this raises the need of rechecking the facilities when going out to space for detecting life or else this biological burden might adversely affect the potential of our missions. These microbes could degrade the cleaning agents and might be taking something from them only to get bits of its diet.