IIT-Madras and NASA researchers study microbes on the International Space Station

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Researchers from IIT-Madras and NASA’s JPL studied the interactions between microbes on the International Space Station.

The Indian Institute of Technology Madras and Nasa Researchers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have studied the interactions between microbes in the International Space Station (ISS), the institute announced on Friday. A key discovery is that a microbe that resides on the ISS proved beneficial to various other microorganisms but hindered the growth of a fungus. The study would help design strategies for disinfection of space stations to minimize any potential impact of microbes on the health of astronauts.

“Crews, during spaceflight, may have impaired immunity and limited access to terrestrial medical facilities. Therefore, the study of microbes inhabiting the space station becomes important to understand the associated short-term and long-term risks space travel on the health of astronauts,” IIT-Madras said in a press release. The present study was inspired by previous observations of the dominance of Klebsiella pneumoniae, a bacterium, on ISS surfaces.

This pathogen is known to cause pneumonia and other nosocomial (nosocomial) infections. The researchers were widely interested in understanding how this bacterium affects the growth of other nearby microbes and the possible implications this might have. The researchers analyzed data from microbial samples taken during three spaceflights at seven locations on the ISS.

The study revealed that Klebsiella pneumoniae, a major microbe that resides on the ISSis beneficial for various other microbes also present on the ISS, especially bacteria of the genus Pantoea. However, its presence has been found to hinder the growth of the Aspergillus fungus.

This computational observation was further tested by laboratory experiments, and it was found that the presence of K. pneumoniae was indeed detrimental to the growth of the Aspergillus fungus.

Dr. Karthik Raman, Associate Professor at the Bhupat & Jyoti Mehta School of Biosciences and Principal Fellow of the Robert Bosch Center for Data Science and Artificial intelligence (RBCDSAI), IIT Madras, collaborated with JPL Principal Investigator Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran. The work has been peer reviewed and published in the prestigious international journal Microbiome.

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