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Researchers Analyze the Mechanism behind Bacterial Survival in Space

Researchers from University of Houston study the reason behind survival of bacteria in space.

Traces of bacteria were found on the International Space Station and Mars Rover. This ability of bacteria to survive extreme environments could lead to a process called forward contamination. Now a team of researchers from the George Fox’s lab at the University of Houston are studying the reasons behind forward contamination. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has the world’s cleanest room- the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Caltech in California. Its employees pass through a series of checkpoints. The first is laced with adhesive floor mats to trap dirt carried on shoes. Another checkpoint delivers a forced-air shower where dozens of air jets blow away dirt and debris. Once the employees pass through these couple of sterilization measures, they can wear the disinfected bodysuits and head covers. Although the cleaning process killed the weaker bacteria, it was found that stronger strains of bacteria survived the disinfection onslaught.

The team analyzed non-pathogenic bacteria of genus Bacillus isolated from the cleanrooms and spacecraft assembly facilities at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. These bacteria were found to produce highly resistant spores. The genome resistant strains of B. safensis FO-36bT and B. pumilus SAFR-032 were subjected to peroxide and radiation. These genome strains were compared to another strain B. safensis JPL-MERTA-8-2 which is known to produce spores that are vulnerable to peroxide and radiation. The B. safensis JPL-MERTA-8-2 strain was collected from the Mars Odyssey Spacecraft and Jet Propulsion Laboratory and later found on the Mars Explorer Rover before its launch in 2004. The caparisons of the blueprints of the strains reveled 10 genes that are unique to B. safensis FO-36bT. These strains are not found in any organisms and its functions are unknown. However, it is evident that they were immune to peroxide and radiation. The researches state that the possible cause of such resistance could be the distinctions in gene regulation which modify the expression levels of key proteins in the strain. The research was published in the journal Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry on June 27, 2018.