Bacterial Strains Discovered On The Space Station

Arecent discovery aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has researchers may help create the fuel to help plants withstand such stressful situations. Methylobacterium ajmalii sp. nov., Isolated From the International Space Station, Frontiers in Microbiology, Publishing their findings to Frontiers in Microbiology, researchers working with NASA described the discovery and isolation of 4 strains of bacteria belonging to the family Methylobacteriaceae from different locations aboard the ISS across two consecutive flights.

While 1 strain was identified as Methylorubrum rhodesianum, the other 3 were previously undiscovered and belong to a novel species novel. The rod-shaped, motile bacteria were given the designations IF7SW-B2T, IIF1SW-B5, and IIF4SW-B5 with genetic analysis showing them to be closely related to Methylobacterium indicum. Methylobacterium species are involved in nitrogen fixation, phosphate solubilization, abiotic stress tolerance, plant growth promotion and biocontrol activity against plant pathogens.

Now, in honor of the renowned Indian biodiversity scientists Dr Ajmal Khan, the team has proposed to call the novel species Methylobacterium ajmalii.

Dr Kasthuri Venkateswaran (Venkat) and Dr Nitin Kumar Singh of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said, the strains might possess biotechnologically useful genetic determinants for the growing of crops in space.

However, further experimental biology is needed to prove that it is, indeed, a potential game-changer for space farming.

They said, to grow plants in extreme places where resources are minimal, isolation of novel microbes that help to promote plant growth under stressful conditions is essential.

Along with JPL, other researchers collaborating on this discovery are based at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Cornell University and the University of Hyderabad in India.

According to Venkat and Singh said, with NASA one day looking to take humans to the surface of Mars - and potentially beyond, the US National Research Council Decadal Survey recommends that the space agency use the ISS as a test-bed for surveying microorganisms. Since our group possess expertise in cultivating microorganisms from extreme niches, we have been tasked by the NASA Space Biology Program to survey the ISS for the presence and persistence of the microorganisms. Needless to say, the ISS is a cleanly-maintained extreme environment. Crew safety is the number 1 priority and hence understanding human/plant pathogens are important, but beneficial microbes like this novel Methylobacterium ajmalii are also needed.

As part of an ongoing surveillance mission, 8 locations on the ISS are being monitored for bacterial growths and have been for the last 6 years. These sample areas include where the crew assembles or where experiments are conducted, such as the plant growth chamber. While hundreds of bacterial samples from the ISS have been analyzed to date, approximately 1,000 samples have been collected from various other locations on the space station but are awaiting a trip back to Earth where they can be examined.

According to Venkat and Singh, the eventual goal is to bypass this lengthy process and potentially find new novel strains using molecular biology equipment developed and demonstrated for the ISS.

Venkat and Singh said, instead of bringing samples back to Earth for analyses, we need an integrated microbial monitoring system that collect, process, and analyze samples in space using molecular technologies. This miniaturized omics in space technology, a biosensor development will help NASA and other space faring nations achieve safe and sustainable space exploration for long periods of time.

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