IIT-Madras, NASA study microbial interactions in ISS

According to the institution, the crew, during spaceflight, may have altered immunity and limited access to terrestrial medical facilities.
Indian Institute of Technology Madras
Indian Institute of Technology Madras

CHENNAI: Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory researchers have studied the interactions between microbes in the International Space Station (ISS). The study will help devise strategies for the disinfection of space stations to minimise any potential impact of microbes on the health of astronauts, an IIT-Madras release said on Friday.

According to the institution, the crew, during spaceflight, may have altered immunity and limited access to terrestrial medical facilities. Therefore, studying the microbes inhabiting the space station becomes important to understand the risks associated with short-term and long-term space travel on the health of astronauts.

The present study was motivated by the earlier observations of the dominance of Klebsiella pneumonia on the surfaces of the ISS. This pathogen has been known to cause pneumonia and other nosocomial infections. The researchers were broadly interested in understanding how this bacteria affects the growth of other microbes in the vicinity and the possible implications it could have.

The researchers analysed the microbial sample data taken across three space flights at seven locations on the ISS. The study found that Klebsiella pneumonia, a major microbe that resides on the ISS, is beneficial to various other microbes also present on the ISS, especially the bacteria from the Pantoea genus.

However, it was found that its presence was hampering the growth of Aspergillus fungus. This computational observation was further tested through laboratory experiments, and it was found that the presence of Klebsiella pneumonia was indeed detrimental to the growth of the Aspergillus fungus.

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