Microbes on International Space Station are similar to ones on Earth

Scientists have discovered that the International Space Station has a similar microbiome to
By Joseph Scalise | Dec 06, 2017
A group of professional and citizen scientists from Project MERCCURI and the Human Microbiome Project have discovered that the microbes living on the International Space Station (ISS) are similar to the bacteria found in homes on Earth, according to new research in the open-access journal PeerJ.

The researchers made this discovery by analyzing swabs taken by astronauts aboard the ISS. The swabs were collected from 15 locations inside the space station and showed that the station's microbiome --the population of all microbes living there -- did not originate in space. Rather, the organisms came from either the astronauts' bodies or any supplies sent up from Earth.

To get a look at the diversity of such bacteria, researchers compared the swabs to previous, Earth-based studies like the Wild Life of Our Homes citizen science project, which looked at themicrobial diversity found within homes. The team also compared the samples to surveys of human body sites from the Human Microbiome Project. This revealed the similarities between the ISS and homes on Earth.

"[Humans are] completely surrounded by mostly harmless microbes on Earth, and we see a broadly similar microbial community on the ISS,"said study co-author David Coil, a microbiologist at the University of California, Davis, according to Space.com. "So [the station] is probably no more or less gross than your living room."

In addition to the discovery of microbes, the study also revealed that the space station has a diverse microbiome. That means it is healthy, which is good new for future space travel. That information could also help researchers better understand different microbiomes here on Earth.

"Studying the microbial diversity on the ISS is not only of relevance to space exploration but also serves as an important comparison to buildings on Earth because the ISS has many novel features such as limited influx of microbes," said study co-author Jonathan Eisen, a professor of medical microbiology and immunology and of ecology and evolution at the University of California, Davis, according to Phys.org.


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