Five-Year microbiological study finds ISS habitat safe for humans

(ORDO NEWS) — A 5-year microbiological study of the International Space Station and its inhabitants by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and NASA researchers has concluded that the space station is safe for its inhabitants.

The research paper represents the first comprehensive characterization of the ecological profile of the ISS, and is the first comparison between the station microbiome and the astronaut microbiome using metagenomic DNA sequencing techniques. The article was published in the journal Microbiome.

“While our study identified several opportunistic microbes, we concluded that the ISS is a safe environment for astronauts,” said LLNL biologist Crystal Jaing, co-author of the paper.

During the 5-year research work, from 2015 to 2020, the team conducted 2 major studies. In the Microbial Tracking-1 (MT-1) project, microbial diversity from space station surfaces and air samples was characterized using both conventional microbiological and molecular methods.

During the MT-2 study, scientists compared samples taken from astronauts with surface samples that were studied in the MT-1 study.

The analysis showed that the bacteria Staphylococcus sp. and fungi Malassezia sp. were the most common types.

Generally, neither of these two organisms is dangerous. The results of the study show that the ISS microbiome was dominated by organisms associated with human skin.

“Overall, the composition of the ISS surface has been extremely stable, with the exception of a few small changes during our five-year study,” Jaing said. “There are no new antibiotic resistance genes in the ISS microbiome.”

The authors write that about 29 antimicrobial resistance genes were found in all samples, with macrolide/lincosamide/streptogramin resistance genes being the most common.

The microbial composition of samples taken from both astronauts and the space station environment was studied using metagenomic sequencing and processed using the Livermore Metagenomics Analysis Toolkit, which quickly identifies microbes, including bacteria, viruses and fungi.

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