Disease-causing germs on ISS a concern for NASA

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

REUTERS NASAStress of Space Travel Can Reactivate Dormant Viruses in Astronauts

According to what a new study has found, fungi and bacteria are all over the International Space Station, and they can form biofilms that promote antibiotic resistance and cause diseases.

It also features a touchscreen, speaker and a microphone, along with a mechanical arm that enables it to handle cargo or running experiments.

ISS has been visited by more than 222 astronauts over the course of its operation. Also, Astrobees is a key for future missions to the moon and beyond.

It appears debris caused by A-SAT (anti-satellite) missile tests is not the only thing endangering the International Space Station.

The station's components were built in sterile environments before being sent into orbit and routine monitoring has taken place since.

"This is even more important for astronauts during spaceflight, as they have altered immunity and do not have access to the sophisticated medical interventions available on Earth", says co-author Kasthuri Venkateswaran, a microbiologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Regardless, the detection of possible disease-causing organisms highlights the importance of further studies to examine how these ISS microbes function in space".

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Moreover, the objective was to find out if the microbial and fungal culture were different between locations and time.

Some of the microbes pose health risks on Earth, such as Staphylococcus aureus - often found on the skin and inside the nose - and Enterobacter, which is associated with the digestive tract. The most common bacteria were Staphylococcus (26%); Pantoea (23%), and Bacillus (11%). There are a lot of factors that could make them sick or not, but the most important fact is the health status of each on the space station.

The experts found that while fungal communities on the space station remained largely stable, the microbe populations were similar across the ISS but changed as time progressed.

NASA explained that the biofilms' ability to cause microbial-induced corrosion on Earth could also damage the ISS infrastructure. The authors suggest that these temporal differences may be due to the different astronauts on board the ISS.

And numerous organisms detected on the ISS are known to form biofilms that belong to both bacterial (Acinetobacter, Sphingomonas, Bacillus, Burkholderia, Corynebacterium, and Klebsiella) and fungal (Penicillium, Aspergillus, Cryptococcus, and Rhodotorula) genera. The study was published in the journal Microbiome, and it was the first to provide a comprehensive catalog of the fungi and bacteria that can be found lurking on interior surfaces in closed space systems.

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.

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