Researchers from the University of Hyderabad, in coordination with NASA, have discovered four new strains of bacteria aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Out of the four, three have been previously undiscovered, while the fourth was identified as Methylorubrum rhodesianum bacteria. Researchers have now proposed to name this microbe Methylobacterium ajmalii, after Seyed Ajmal Khan, who is a professor at the Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu.
All the four newly discovered bacteria belong to the family of Methylobacteriaceae, which is usually found in soil and freshwater. Experts have touted that they aid plant growth on the Space station by fixing nitrogen, involving in biocontrol activity amongst other things. Their discovery has now triggered possibilities of deliberately placing them on the space station to bolster plant growth during long space missions.
Additionally, the discovery has also triggered questions on their survival in outer space. Experts believe that they were most likely transferred to the ISS from Earth-either survived since the station’s inception or arrived along with astronaut’s payloads. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
“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,” wrote the Indian-American team who carried out the analysis.
As a part of an ongoing surveillance mission, eight locations on the ISS were being monitored for bacterial growths and have been for the last 6 years, researchers said. These sample areas include where the crew assembles or where experiments are conducted, such as the plant growth chamber. While hundreds of bacterial samples from the ISS have been analyzed to date, approximately 1,000 samples have been collected from various other locations on the space station but are awaiting a trip back to Earth where they can be examined.
(Image Credits: NASA)
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