"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."
New way to look at cell membranes could change the way we study disease
19.11.2018 | University of Oxford
Controlling organ growth with light
19.11.2018 | European Molecular Biology Laboratory
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
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