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Microbial ecology at the international space station. The use of rapid and easy molecular methods for the quantitative detection of bacteria

26 October 2011

PhD ceremony: Ms. S.P. van Tongeren, 14.30 uur, Aula Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Dissertation: Microbial ecology at the international space station. The use of rapid and easy molecular methods for the quantitative detection of bacteria

Promotor(s): prof. J.E. Degener

Faculty: Medical Sciences

The human microbiota plays a crucial role in health and disease. During spaceflight, several aspects of the biology of man and microbe are altered. To investigate this interaction, microbial samples were taken during the "SAMPLE" experiments from the microbiota of three cosmonauts and from the interior of the Russian Zvezda Module of the International Space Station (ISS) during short duration spaceflight missions to the ISS in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. The samples were analysed both by conventional culturing techniques, as well as by molecular techniques which were developed partially in a separate Microgravity Applications Programme (MAP) of the European Space Agency (ESA).

The SAMPLE experiments provided a wealth of data. For instance, the results showed major changes in the microbiota of the cosmonauts, both in numbers and composition. The implications of these observations for extended spaceflight, for instance for future missions to Mars, clearly need further investigation. In addition, samples taken from numerous locations of the interior of the Zvezda Module, resulted in a map of microbial contamination. Several “hot spots” of increased levels of bacterial activity were identified. Taken together, microbiota management during spaceflights needs serious consideration. Most interestingly, an unidentifiable bacterium was discovered at one of the locations which will be introduced to the scientific community as a new species.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.40 p.m.

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