There are new bacteria on the block, and the block is the International Space Station. Published in the Frontiers in Microbiology on March 15, 2021, the research was performed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and University of Southern California. The team of scientists also included a team from India’s University of Hyderabad. Since 2014, astronauts on different crews at the International Space Station (ISS) collected samples from eight spots on the space station, to scan for the presence of microbes. The study mentions that four strains of bacteria have been discovered at the ISS, out of which three of the bacterial strains are new and have been previously unknown. The four strains belong to the Methanobacteriaceae family that support plants in promoting their growth and fighting pathogens that affect them, among other things. One of the strains, Methyl Rubrum rhodesianum, was already known but the other three rod-shaped bacteria were unknown, however, scientists were able to find out that they were most closely related to the bacteria species Methylobacterium indicum.
The paper mentions that one of the strains – Methylobacterium ajmalii (aj.ma’li.i.), is named after Ajmal Khan, a renowned Indian scientist on biodiversity). The cells of this strain are Gram-stain-negative, aerobic, and motile rods showing oxidase- and catalase-positive reactions.
According to The Print, Seyed Ajmal Khan is a professor at the Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu.
JPL researchers Kasthuri Venkateswaran and Nitin Kumar Singh said in a press statementthat the newly-discovered strains might possess “biotechnologically useful genetic determinants” for the growing of crops in space.
Previous studies had suggested that certain resilient strains of bacteria could survive the harsh conditions of space, including dried pellets of Deinococcus bacteria – listed in the Guinness World Records as the world’s toughest – which survived on the space station’s surface for three years. They were deliberately placed there to test the “panspermia” theory, that life exists throughout the universe and may be transported between planets by space dust, asteroids, comets, or even contaminated spacecraft, reports The Guardian.
“Since these ISS strains were isolated at different time periods and from various locations, their persistence in the ISS environment and ecological significance in the closed systems warrant further study,” the team summed up in their study.
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