"Wherever man boldly goes his microbial fauna is sure to follow," said Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiologist at University College London. The Russian space station Mir was launched in 1986 and microbial studies investigated the diversity of bacteria living alongside the astronauts.
In 1998, free-floating blobs of water found during a NASA mission to the station were analyzed and discovered to contain microbes including faecal bacteria like E. coli, plague bacterium-related species of Yersinia, and even what was suspected to be Legionella, as well as fungi, amoebae and protozoa.
"Preventing the spread of microbial life between worlds of the solar system has been a top priority for decades now," said Lewis. "This effort is known as planetary protection." Today's International Space Station (ISS) is much cleaner than Mir was 20 years ago, thanks to HEPA filters, weekly cleaning and biweekly disinfecting regimes. But inevitably, the ISS is still far from being bug-free; recent sampling revealed the bacterium Staphylococcus epidermidis surviving in different areas.
But it's not just planets we need to protect - astronauts are at increased risk of infection in space. Respiratory infections are common among astronauts and diseases occur in a quarter of space shuttle flights. "Prolonged exposure to cosmic radiation and microgravity is believed to have a negative effect on the immune system, and disease transmission is enhanced within the closed environment of recycled air and water," said Lewis Dartnell. Microbes also pose an increased risk of allergies, toxic air and water supply and even biodegradation of critical spacecraft components.
This week, the Phoenix lander touched down on Mars, hoping to take the first ever direct measurements of Martian water and organic molecules. "To guarantee the cleanliness of the robotic arm, it was enclosed in a biobarrier bag - effectively an interplanetary condom," said Lewis. But this will not be a feasible control measure for humans. "Humans and spaceships are inherently dirty and once we arrive to plant flags in the rusty soil our microbial entourage will begin leaking out onto Mars." What's more, microbes have an uncanny ability to survive as spores, resistant to heat, cold and radiation. "Once humans have visited Mars, we may never be certain that any biological discoveries weren't simply signs of our own dirty sleeves," said Lewis Dartnell.
In fact, we might actually need to take microbes on a manned mission to Mars. "For longer missions, it will not be possible to take sufficient supplies from Earth," said Lewis. "Scientists are developing ingenious life support systems relying on plants and micro-organisms to provide food, waste recycling and water purification." Of course, in this case, an outbreak of harmful microbes could crash life support systems as well as affecting the health of the crew, endangering the whole mission. "For better or worse, space bugs are here to stay."
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
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22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy