The International Space Station is contaminated with bacteria and fungi that are known to cause diseases and promote antibiotic resistance on Earth. It is also possible that these pathogens could corrode the orbiting laboratory.
Similar To Microbes Found On Earth
In a new study published in the open access journal Microbiome, Kasthuri Venkateswaran, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and colleagues presented a comprehensive catalog of bacteria and fungi found on the surfaces of the ISS.
Most of the microbes on the ISS come from humans and similar to those found in public buildings on Earth.
The most prominent bacteria found on the ISS were Staphylococcus, Pantoea, and Bacillus. They also include bacteria that are considered pathogenic on Earth, such as the Staphylococcus aureus and Enterobacter.
Staphylococcus aureus is considered the most dangerous of common staphylococcal bacteria, which can cause skin infections, pneumonia, bone infections, and heart valve infections.
Enterobacter infections, on the other hand, can cause skin and soft tissue infections, urinary tract infections, and lower respiratory infections.
Microbes in indoor space on Earth have long been known to affect human health, but those in space have different immunity because of the extreme environment. They are not also easily addressed given the inaccessibility of sophisticated medical treatment available on Earth.
Researchers said that the bacteria and fungi found on the ISS have also been known to form biofilms that promote antibiotic resistance.
Microbes That Cause Corrosion
The organisms are also associated with microbial induced corrosion on Earth. They may also affect the structural stability of the spacecraft.
"Biofilm formation on the ISS could decrease infrastructure stability by causing mechanical blockages, reducing heat transfer efficiency, and inducing microbial influenced corrosion," the researchers wrote.
While the role of these organisms in the corrosions aboard the space station still has to be determined, knowing their potential impact on spacecraft is crucial to maintaining structural stability during long term space missions.
Impact On Space Flights
Researchers hope that understanding the microbial and fungal communities in the space station can help in the development of safety measures that can be useful for long-term space travel or living in space.
"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," Venkateswaran said in a statement.