Researchers at the International Space Station (ISS) have discovered new types of bacteria, which can help in efforts to grow food in space. The study, published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Microbiology, was conducted by scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in partnership with the University of Southern California, Cornell University and Hyderabad University (India).
In this case, three new strains belonging to the Methylobacterium family, designated IF7SW-B2T, IIF1SW-B5 and IIF4SW-B5, were identified and isolated. These species have biotechnologically useful genetic determinants for their function, such as the ability to fix nitrogen, dissolve phosphates, tolerance to abiotic stress, promote plant growth, and biocontrol against diseases and pests.
They are expected to be able to create conditions for crop emergence in extreme environments, including Mars. However, further experiments will be needed to prove its potential for space agriculture. To that end, the United States National Research Council recommended that the agency use the ISS as a test layer for microorganism research.
“For growing plants in extreme places where resources are minimal, it is necessary to isolate new microbes that help promote growth in stressful conditions. Bearing in mind that our group has this experience, NASA’s space biology program was tasked with investigating the presence and persistence of microorganisms on the ISS, “commented Kasthuri Venkateswaran (Venkat) and Nitin Kumar Singh of JPL in a note has published the website EurekAlert!
Through these efforts, hundreds of bacterial samples have already been collected and analyzed on board, but are still awaiting return to Earth to be thoroughly tested. For Venkat and Singh, this is a long process that needs to be overcome, so it would be necessary to create molecular biology equipment developed specifically for the ISS to achieve safe and sustainable space exploration.
“Instead of bringing samples to Earth for analysis, we need an integrated microbial tracking system that collects, processes and analyzes samples in space, using molecular technologies,” they commented.
They stressed that keeping the environment clean and crew safety a priority of any work in the space laboratory, and stressed the importance of understanding possible human and plant pathogens in research. In this sense, in the last 6 years, 8 locations on the ISS are constantly monitored, especially in the areas where experiments are conducted.