"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."
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27.03.2017 | Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
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