Researchers from IIT Madras and NASA examine microbial interactions on the ISS to increase space travel safety.

The study will help in devising strategies for targeted disinfection of the International Space Station.

Researchers from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT) Madras have examined the interactions between bacteria in the International Space Station (ISS). The study will aid in developing techniques for cleaning space stations to minimise any potential negative effects that bacteria may have on astronauts’ health.
Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran, Senior Research Scientist at JPL, worked with Dr. Karthik Raman, Associate Professor at the Bhupat and Jyoti Mehta School of Biosciences and a key member of the Robert Bosch Centre for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (RBCDSAI), IIT Madras.

“Crews may have changed immunity during spaceflight and limited access to terrestrial medical services,” IIT Madras stated in an official announcement. Understanding the implications of both short-term and long-term space travel on astronauts’ health makes it crucial to investigate the bacteria living on the space station.

Previous observations of Klebsiella pneumonia predominating on the surfaces of the ISS served as the inspiration for the current study. This pathogen has been linked to nosocomial illnesses like pneumonia. The general goal of the research was to understand how this bacteria influences the proliferation of nearby germs and what effects that might have.

The scientists examined the data from microbial samples collected at seven different ISS locations over the course of three space trips. According to the study, the important germ Klebsiella pneumonia, which is located on the ISS, benefits many other microorganisms, particularly those belonging to the Pantoea genus.

However, it was discovered that its presence was impeding Aspergillus fungus development. Through additional testing in the lab, it was shown that the presence of K pneumonia did, in fact, have a negative impact on the development of the Aspergillus fungus.

The microbiome of the built environment has a significant impact on human health, according to Dr. Karthik Raman of IIT Madras, who emphasised the importance of this research. Unraveling these relationships will help us understand the processes that determine the microbiome even in harsh situations. Controlled habitats like the ISS harbour a variety of organisms.

Nitin Singh, a researcher at JPL, emphasised the significance of this work by stating that it “drew on a decade’s worth of pioneering effort at JPL to uncover a direct correlation between the predictions we can make based on the genetic information from bacteria, and what the organisms do out in the wild. This work is a great contender for upcoming clinical space travel applications since our predictions and the microorganism features we observe in the lab agree.

Senior Research Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Kasthuri Venkateswaran, stated that “crew members are one of the ways that bacteria are transferred into the sealed and locked space station. The environment on board the space station, however, is distinct from that on Earth. These unfavourable climatic conditions in space have an impact on how bacteria interact, necessitating such research. The development of adequate safety precautions for long-term space flight can be aided by greater understanding of the bacteria in space.

IIT Madras continued, “This study gives evidence on why it’s vital to monitor the ISS microbiome, and the microbial strains revealed in this study pose no hazard to the space station astronauts. We can continue to safeguard astronaut health by monitoring the bacteria on the ISS and learning how they adapt in microgravity.


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