Most planetary protection research has concentrated on characterizing viable bioloads on spacecraft surfaces, developing techniques for bioload reduction prior to launch, and studying the effects of simulated martian environments on microbial survival. Little research has examined the persistence of biogenic signature molecules on spacecraft materials under simulated martian surface conditions. This study examined how endogenous adenosine-5′-triphosphate (ATP) would persist on aluminum coupons under simulated martian conditions of 7.1 mbar, full-spectrum simulated martian radiation calibrated to 4 W m−2 of UV-C (200 to 280 nm), −10°C, and a Mars gas mix of CO2 (95.54%), N2 (2.7%), Ar (1.6%), O2 (0.13%), and H2O (0.03%). Cell or spore viabilities of Acinetobacter radioresistens, Bacillus pumilus, and B. subtilis were measured in minutes to hours, while high levels of endogenous ATP were recovered after exposures of up to 21 days. The dominant factor responsible for temporal reductions in viability and loss of ATP was the simulated Mars surface radiation; low pressure, low temperature, and the Mars gas composition exhibited only slight effects. The normal burst of endogenous ATP detected during spore germination in B. pumilus and B. subtilis was reduced by 1 or 2 orders of magnitude following, respectively, 8- or 30-min exposures to simulated martian conditions. The results support the conclusion that endogenous ATP will persist for time periods that are likely to extend beyond the nominal lengths of most surface missions on Mars, and planetary protection protocols prior to launch may require additional rigor to further reduce the presence and abundance of biosignature molecules on spacecraft surfaces.
Spacecraft-associated spores and four non-spore-forming bacterial isolates were prepared in Atacama Desert soil suspensions and tested both in solution and in a desiccated state to elucidate the shadowing effect of soil particulates on bacterial survival under simulated Martian atmospheric and UV irradiation conditions. All non-spore-forming cells that were prepared in nutrient-depleted, 0.2-μm-filtered desert soil (DSE) microcosms and desiccated for 75 days on aluminum died, whereas cells prepared similarly in 60-μm-filtered desert soil (DS) microcosms survived such conditions. Among the bacterial cells tested, Microbacterium schleiferi and Arthrobacter sp. exhibited elevated resistance to 254-nm UV irradiation (low-pressure Hg lamp), and their survival indices were comparable to those of DS- and DSE-associated Bacillus pumilus spores. Desiccated DSE-associated spores survived exposure to full Martian UV irradiation (200 to 400 nm) for 5 min and were only slightly affected by Martian atmospheric conditions in the absence of UV irradiation. Although prolonged UV irradiation (5 min to 12 h) killed substantial portions of the spores in DSE microcosms (∼5- to 6-log reduction with Martian UV irradiation), dramatic survival of spores was apparent in DS-spore microcosms. The survival of soil-associated wild-type spores under Martian conditions could have repercussions for forward contamination of extraterrestrial environments, especially Mars.
The dry-heat resistance characteristics of spores of psychrophilic organisms isolated from soil samples from the Viking spacecraft assembly areas at Cape Kennedy Space Flight Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla., were studied. Spore suspensions were produced, and dry-heat D values were determined for the microorganisms that demonstrated growth or survival under a simulated Martian environment. The dry-heat tests were carried out by using the planchet-boat-hot plate system at 110 and 125 degrees C with an ambient relative humidity of 50% at 22 degrees C. The spores evaluated had a relatively low resistance to dry heat. D(110 degrees C) values ranged from 7.5 to 122 min, whereas the D(123 degrees C) values ranged from less than 1.0 to 9.8 min.
The isolation of viable extremely halophilic archaea from 250-million-year-old rock salt suggests the possibility of their long-term survival under desiccation. Since halite has been found on Mars and in meteorites, haloarchaeal survival of martian surface conditions is being explored. Halococcus dombrowskii H4 DSM 14522T was exposed to UV doses over a wavelength range of 200–400 nm to simulate martian UV flux. Cells embedded in a thin layer of laboratory-grown halite were found to accumulate preferentially within fluid inclusions. Survival was assessed by staining with the LIVE/DEAD kit dyes, determining colony-forming units, and using growth tests. Halite-embedded cells showed no loss of viability after exposure to about 21 kJ/m2, and they resumed growth in liquid medium with lag phases of 12 days or more after exposure up to 148 kJ/m2. The estimated D37 (dose of 37 % survival) for Hcc. dombrowskii was ≥ 400 kJ/m2. However, exposure of cells to UV flux while in liquid culture reduced D37 by 2 orders of magnitude (to about 1 kJ/m2); similar results were obtained with Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 and Haloarcula japonica. The absorption of incoming light of shorter wavelength by color centers resulting from defects in the halite crystal structure likely contributed to these results. Under natural conditions, haloarchaeal cells become embedded in salt upon evaporation; therefore, dispersal of potential microscopic life within small crystals, perhaps in dust, on the surface of Mars could resist damage by UV radiation.
Halococcus dombrowskii; Simulated martian UV radiation; LIVE/DEAD staining; Halite fluid inclusions; UV transmittance and reflectance; Desiccation
Recent spacecraft and lander missions to Mars have reinforced previous interpretations that Mars was a wet and warm planet in the geological past. The role of liquid water in shaping many of the surface features on Mars has long been recognized. Since the presence of liquid water is essential for survival of life, conditions on early Mars might have been more favourable for the emergence and evolution of life. Until a sample return mission to Mars, one of the ways of studying the past environmental conditions on Mars is through chemical and isotopic studies of Martian meteorites. Over 35 individual meteorite samples, believed to have originated on Mars, are now available for lab-based studies. Fe is a key element that is present in both primary and secondary minerals in the Martian meteorites. Fe-isotope ratios can be fractionated by low-temperature processes which includes biological activity. Experimental investigations of Fe reduction and oxidation by bacteria have produced large fractionation in Fe-isotope ratios. Hence, it is considered likely that if there is/were any form of life present on Mars then it might be possible to detect its signature by Fe-isotope studies of Martian meteorites. In the present study, we have analysed a number of Martian meteorites for their bulk-Fe-isotope composition. In addition, a set of terrestrial analogue material has also been analysed to compare the results and draw inferences. So far, our studies have not found any measurable Fe-isotopic fractionation in bulk Martian meteorites that can be ascribed to any low-temperature process operative on Mars.
Mars; Martian meteorites; SNC; terrestrial analogues; iron isotopes; life
A census of clean room surface-associated bacterial populations was derived from the results of both the cloning and sequencing of 16S rRNA genes and DNA microarray (PhyloChip) analyses. Samples from the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Multiple Testing Facility (LMA-MTF), the Kennedy Space Center Payload Hazard and Servicing Facility (KSC-PHSF), and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Spacecraft Assembly Facility (JPL-SAF) clean rooms were collected during the various assembly phases of the Phoenix and Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft. Clone library-derived analyses detected a larger bacterial diversity prior to the arrival of spacecraft hardware in these clean room facilities. PhyloChip results were in agreement with this trend but also unveiled the presence of anywhere from 9- to 70-fold more bacterial taxa than cloning approaches. Among the facilities sampled, the JPL-SAF (MSL mission) housed a significantly less diverse bacterial population than either the LMA-MTF or KSC-PHSF (Phoenix mission). Bacterial taxa known to thrive in arid conditions were frequently detected in MSL-associated JPL-SAF samples, whereas proteobacterial lineages dominated Phoenix-associated KSC-PHSF samples. Comprehensive bacterial censuses, such as that reported here, will help space-faring nations preemptively identify contaminant biomatter that may compromise extraterrestrial life detection experiments. The robust nature and high sensitivity of DNA microarray technologies should prove beneficial to a wide range of scientific, electronic, homeland security, medical, and pharmaceutical applications and to any other ventures with a vested interest in monitoring and controlling contamination in exceptionally clean environments.
The presence and role of Archaea in artificial, human-controlled environments is still unclear. The search for Archaea has been focused on natural biotopes where they have been found in overwhelming numbers, and with amazing properties. However, they are considered as one of the major group of microorganisms that might be able to survive a space flight, or even to thrive on other planets. Although still concentrating on aerobic, bacterial spores as a proxy for spacecraft cleanliness, space agencies are beginning to consider Archaea as a possible contamination source that could affect future searches for life on other planets. This study reports on the discovery of archaeal 16S rRNA gene signatures not only in US American spacecraft assembly clean rooms but also in facilities in Europe and South America. Molecular methods revealed the presence of Crenarchaeota in all clean rooms sampled, while signatures derived from methanogens and a halophile appeared only sporadically. Although no Archaeon was successfully enriched in our multiassay cultivation approach thus far, samples from a European clean room revealed positive archaeal fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) signals of rod-shaped microorganisms, representing the first visualization of Archaea in clean room environments. The molecular and visual detection of Archaea was supported by the first quantitative PCR studies of clean rooms, estimating the overall quantity of Archaea therein. The significant presence of Archaea in these extreme environments in distinct geographical locations suggests a larger role for these microorganisms not only in natural biotopes, but also in human controlled and rigorously cleaned environments.
Archaea; artificial environment; clean room; microbial diversity; planetary protection
In assessing the bacterial populations present in spacecraft assembly, spacecraft test, and launch preparation facilities, extremophilic bacteria (requiring severe conditions for growth) and extremotolerant bacteria (tolerant to extreme conditions) were isolated. Several cultivation approaches were employed to select for and identify bacteria that not only survive the nutrient-limiting conditions of clean room environments but can also withstand even more inhospitable environmental stresses. Due to their proximity to spacefaring objects, these bacteria pose a considerable risk for forward contamination of extraterrestrial sites. Samples collected from four geographically distinct National Aeronautics and Space Administration clean rooms were challenged with UV-C irradiation, 5% hydrogen peroxide, heat shock, pH extremes (pH 3.0 and 11.0), temperature extremes (4°C to 65°C), and hypersalinity (25% NaCl) prior to and/or during cultivation as a means of selecting for extremotolerant bacteria. Culture-independent approaches were employed to measure viable microbial (ATP-based) and total bacterial (quantitative PCR-based) burdens. Intracellular ATP concentrations suggested a viable microbial presence ranging from below detection limits to 106 cells/m2. However, only 0.1 to 55% of these viable cells were able to grow on defined culture medium. Isolated members of the Bacillaceae family were more physiologically diverse than those reported in previous studies, including thermophiles (Geobacillus), obligate anaerobes (Paenibacillus), and halotolerant, alkalophilic species (Oceanobacillus and Exiguobacterium). Non-spore-forming microbes (α- and β-proteobacteria and actinobacteria) exhibiting tolerance to the selected stresses were also encountered. The multiassay cultivation approach employed herein enhances the current understanding of the physiological diversity of bacteria housed in these clean rooms and leads us to ponder the origin and means of translocation of thermophiles, anaerobes, and halotolerant alkalophiles into these environments.
Ligation-mediated PCR was employed to quantify cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer (CPD) formation at nucleotide resolution along exon 2 of the adenine phosphoribosyltransferase (aprt) locus in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells following irradiation with either UVA (340–400 nm), UVB (295–320 nm), UVC (254 nm) or simulated sunlight (SSL; λ > 295 nm). The resulting DNA damage spectrum for each wavelength region was then aligned with the corresponding mutational spectrum generated previously in the same genetic target. The DNA sequence specificities of CPD formation induced by UVC, UVB or SSL were very similar, i.e., in each case the overall relative proportion of this photoproduct forming at TT, TC, CT and CC sites was ∼28, ∼26, ∼16 and ∼30%, respectively. Furthermore, a clear correspondence was noted between the precise locations of CPD damage hotspots, and of ‘UV signature’ mutational hotspots consisting primarily of C→T and CC→TT transitions within pyrimidine runs. However, following UVA exposure, in strong contrast to the above situation for UVC, UVB or SSL, CPDs were generated much more frequently at TT sites than at TC, CT or CC sites (57% versus 18, 11 and 14%, respectively). This CPD deposition pattern correlates well with the strikingly high proportion of mutations recovered opposite TT dipyrimidines in UVA- irradiated CHO cells. Our results directly implicate the CPD as a major promutagenic DNA photoproduct induced specifically by UVA in rodent cells.
The martian surface environment exhibits extremes of salinity, temperature, desiccation, and radiation that would make it difficult for terrestrial microbes to survive. Recent evidence suggests that martian soils contain high concentrations of MgSO4 minerals. Through warming of the soils, meltwater derived from subterranean ice-rich regolith may exist for an extended period of time and thus allow the propagation of terrestrial microbes and create significant bioburden at the near surface of Mars. The current report demonstrates that halotolerant bacteria from the Great Salt Plains (GSP) of Oklahoma are capable of growing at high concentrations of MgSO4 in the form of 2 M solutions of epsomite. The epsotolerance of isolates in the GSP bacterial collection was determined, with 35% growing at 2 M MgSO4. There was a complex physiological response to mixtures of MgSO4 and NaCl coupled with other environmental stressors. Growth also was measured at 1 M concentrations of other magnesium and sulfate salts. The complex responses may be partially explained by the pattern of chaotropicity observed for high-salt solutions as measured by agar gelation temperature. Select isolates could grow at the high salt concentrations and low temperatures found on Mars. Survival during repetitive freeze-thaw or drying-rewetting cycles was used as other measures of potential success on the martian surface. Our results indicate that terrestrial microbes might survive under the high-salt, low-temperature, anaerobic conditions on Mars and present significant potential for forward contamination. Stringent planetary protection requirements are needed for future life-detection missions to Mars. Key Words: Analogue—Mars—Planetary protection—Salts—Life in extreme environments. Astrobiology 12, 98–106.
We previously reported that Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 is highly sensitive to UVC (254 nm), UVB (290 to 320 nm), and UVA (320 to 400 nm). Here we delineated the cellular response of MR-1 to UV radiation damage by analyzing the transcriptional profile during a 1-h recovering period after UVC, UVB, and UVA exposure at a dose that yields about a 20% survival rate. Although the SOS response was observed with all three treatments, the induction was more robust in response to short-wavelength UV radiation (UVB and UVC). Similarly, more prophage-related genes were induced by short-wavelength UV radiation. MR-1 showed an active detoxification mechanism in response to UVA, which included the induction of antioxidant enzymes and iron-sequestering proteins to scavenge reactive oxygen species. In addition, a great number of genes encoding multidrug and heavy metal efflux pumps were induced following UVA irradiation. Our data suggested that activation of prophages appears the major lethal factor in MR-1 following UVC or UVB irradiation, whereas oxidative damage contributes greatly to the high UVA sensitivity in MR-1.
Spacecraft hardware and assembly cleanroom surfaces (233 m2 in total) were sampled, total genomic DNA was extracted, hypervariable regions of the 16S rRNA gene (bacteria and archaea) and ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region (fungi) were subjected to 454 tag-encoded pyrosequencing PCR amplification, and 203,852 resulting high-quality sequences were analyzed. Bioinformatic analyses revealed correlations between operational taxonomic unit (OTU) abundance and certain sample characteristics, such as source (cleanroom floor, ground support equipment [GSE], or spacecraft hardware), cleaning regimen applied, and location about the facility or spacecraft. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) cleanroom floor and GSE surfaces gave rise to a larger number of diverse bacterial communities (619 OTU; 20 m2) than colocated spacecraft hardware (187 OTU; 162 m2). In contrast to the results of bacterial pyrosequencing, where at least some sequences were generated from each of the 31 sample sets examined, only 13 and 18 of these sample sets gave rise to archaeal and fungal sequences, respectively. As was the case for bacteria, the abundance of fungal OTU in the GSE surface samples dramatically diminished (9× less) once cleaning protocols had been applied. The presence of OTU representative of actinobacteria, deinococci, acidobacteria, firmicutes, and proteobacteria on spacecraft surfaces suggests that certain bacterial lineages persist even following rigorous quality control and cleaning practices. The majority of bacterial OTU observed as being recurrent belonged to actinobacteria and alphaproteobacteria, supporting the hypothesis that the measures of cleanliness exerted in spacecraft assembly cleanrooms (SAC) inadvertently select for the organisms which are the most fit to survive long journeys in space.
In the course of this biodiversity study, the cultivable microbial community of European spacecraft-associated clean rooms and the Herschel Space Observatory located therein were analyzed during routine assembly operations. Here, we focused on microorganisms capable of growing without oxygen. Anaerobes play a significant role in planetary protection considerations since extraterrestrial environments like Mars probably do not provide enough oxygen for fully aerobic microbial growth. A broad assortment of anaerobic media was used in our cultivation strategies, which focused on microorganisms with special metabolic skills. The majority of the isolated strains grew on anaerobic, complex, nutrient-rich media. Autotrophic microorganisms or microbes capable of fixing nitrogen were also cultivated. A broad range of facultatively anaerobic bacteria was detected during this study and also, for the first time, some strictly anaerobic bacteria (Clostridium and Propionibacterium) were isolated from spacecraft-associated clean rooms. The multiassay cultivation approach was the basis for the detection of several bacteria that had not been cultivated from these special environments before and also led to the discovery of two novel microbial species of Pseudomonas and Paenibacillus.
Escherichia coli and Serratia liquefaciens, two bacterial spacecraft contaminants known to replicate under low atmospheric pressures of 2.5 kPa, were tested for growth and survival under simulated Mars conditions. Environmental stresses of high salinity, low temperature, and low pressure were screened alone and in combination for effects on bacterial survival and replication, and then cells were tested in Mars analog soils under simulated Mars conditions. Survival and replication of E. coli and S. liquefaciens cells in liquid medium were evaluated for 7 days under low temperatures (5, 10, 20, or 30°C) with increasing concentrations (0, 5, 10, or 20%) of three salts (MgCl2, MgSO4, NaCl) reported to be present on the surface of Mars. Moderate to high growth rates were observed for E. coli and S. liquefaciens at 30 or 20°C and in solutions with 0 or 5% salts. In contrast, cell densities of both species generally did not increase above initial inoculum levels under the highest salt concentrations (10 and 20%) and the four temperatures tested, with the exception that moderately higher cell densities were observed for both species at 10% MgSO4 maintained at 20 or 30°C. Growth rates of E. coli and S. liquefaciens in low salt concentrations were robust under all pressures (2.5, 10, or 101.3 kPa), exhibiting a general increase of up to 2.5 orders of magnitude above the initial inoculum levels of the assays. Vegetative E. coli cells were maintained in a Mars analog soil for 7 days under simulated Mars conditions that included temperatures between 20 and −50°C for a day/night diurnal period, UVC irradiation (200 to 280 nm) at 3.6 W m−2 for daytime operations (8 h), pressures held at a constant 0.71 kPa, and a gas composition that included the top five gases found in the martian atmosphere. Cell densities of E. coli failed to increase under simulated Mars conditions, and survival was reduced 1 to 2 orders of magnitude by the interactive effects of desiccation, UV irradiation, high salinity, and low pressure (in decreasing order of importance). Results suggest that E. coli may be able to survive, but not grow, in surficial soils on Mars.
Survival of Bacillus subtilis var. globigii in a simulated Martian environment was demonstrated. Previous contact with the simulated Martian soil or atmosphere reduced germination or outgrowth of unheated spores, or both. Inoculation into simulated Martian soil and then flushing with a simulated Martian atmosphere were lethal to both vegetative cells and spores. After one diurnal temperature cycle (26 to -60 C), the majority of of cells present were spores. No further effect of the diurnal cycle on survival was noted in any of the experimental samples.
We systematically investigated the physiological response as well as DNA damage repair and damage tolerance in Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 following UVC, UVB, UVA, and solar light exposure. MR-1 showed the highest UVC sensitivity among Shewanella strains examined, with D37 and D10 values of 5.6 and 16.5% of Escherichia coli K-12 values. Stationary cells did not show an increased UVA resistance compared to exponential-phase cells; instead, they were more sensitive at high UVA dose. UVA-irradiated MR-1 survived better on tryptic soy agar than Luria-Bertani plates regardless of the growth stage. A 20% survival rate of MR-1 was observed following doses of 3.3 J of UVC m−2, 568 J of UVB m−2, 25 kJ of UVA m−2, and 558 J of solar UVB m−2, respectively. Photoreactivation conferred an increased survival rate to MR-1 of as much as 177- to 365-fold, 11- to 23-fold, and 3- to 10-fold following UVC, UVB, and solar light irradiation, respectively. A significant UV mutability to rifampin resistance was detected in both UVC- and UVB-treated samples, with the mutation frequency in the range of 10−5 to 10−6. Unlike in E. coli, the expression levels of the nucleotide excision repair (NER) component genes uvrA, uvrB, and uvrD were not damage inducible in MR-1. Complementation of Pseudomonas aeruginosa UA11079 (uvrA deficient) with uvrA of MR-1 increased the UVC survival of this strain by more than 3 orders of magnitude. Loss of damage inducibility of the NER system appears to contribute to the high sensitivity of this bacterium to UVR as well as to other DNA-damaging agents.
A bacterial spore assay and a molecular DNA microarray method were compared for their ability to assess relative cleanliness in the context of bacterial abundance and diversity on spacecraft surfaces. Colony counts derived from the NASA standard spore assay were extremely low for spacecraft surfaces. However, the PhyloChip generation 3 (G3) DNA microarray resolved the genetic signatures of a highly diverse suite of microorganisms in the very same sample set. Samples completely devoid of cultivable spores were shown to harbor the DNA of more than 100 distinct microbial phylotypes. Furthermore, samples with higher numbers of cultivable spores did not necessarily give rise to a greater microbial diversity upon analysis with the DNA microarray. The findings of this study clearly demonstrated that there is not a statistically significant correlation between the cultivable spore counts obtained from a sample and the degree of bacterial diversity present. Based on these results, it can be stated that validated state-of-the-art molecular techniques, such as DNA microarrays, can be utilized in parallel with classical culture-based methods to further describe the cleanliness of spacecraft surfaces.
Although the cultivable and noncultivable microbial diversity of spacecraft assembly clean rooms has been previously documented using conventional and state-of-the-art molecular techniques, the occurrence of obligate anaerobes within these clean rooms is still uncertain. Therefore, anaerobic bacterial communities of three clean-room facilities were analyzed during assembly of the Mars Science Laboratory rover. Anaerobic bacteria were cultured on several media, and DNA was extracted from suitable anaerobic enrichments and examined with conventional 16S rRNA gene clone library, as well as high-density phylogenetic 16S rRNA gene microarray (PhyloChip) technologies. The culture-dependent analyses predominantly showed the presence of clostridial and propionibacterial strains. The 16S rRNA gene sequences retrieved from clone libraries revealed distinct microbial populations associated with each clean-room facility, clustered exclusively within gram-positive organisms. PhyloChip analysis detected a greater microbial diversity, spanning many phyla of bacteria, and provided a deeper insight into the microbial community structure of the clean-room facilities. This study presents an integrated approach for assessing the anaerobic microbial population within clean-room facilities, using both molecular and cultivation-based analyses. The results reveal that highly diverse anaerobic bacterial populations persist in the clean rooms even after the imposition of rigorous maintenance programs and will pose a challenge to planetary protection implementation activities.
Selected surfaces from the Command Module, Lunar Module (ascent and descent stages), Instrument Unit, Saturn S-4B engine, and Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter comprised the various components of four Apollo spacecraft which were assayed quantitatively and qualitatively for microorganisms. In addition, the first Lunar Roving Vehicle was assayed. Average levels of microbial contamination (104 per square foot of surface) on the Command Module, Instrument Unit, and Saturn S-4B engine were relatively consistent among spacecraft. The first postflight sampling of interior surfaces of the Command Module was possible due to elimination of the 21-day back-contamination quarantine period. Results of the pre- and postflight samples revealed increases in the postflight samples of 3 logs/inch2. A total of 5,862 microbial isolates was identified; 183 and 327 were obtained from the Command Module at preflight and postflight sampling periods, respectively. Although the results showed that the majority of microorganisms isolated were those considered to be indigenous to humans, an increase in organisms associated with soil and dust was noted with each successive Apollo spacecraft.
Bacterial spore crops were prepared from 103 randomly selected aerobic mesophilic isolates collected during a spore assay of Mariner-Mars 1969 spacecraft conducted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. D125 c values, which were determined by the fractional-replicate-unit-negative-most-probable number assay method using a forced air oven, ranged from less than 5 min to a maximum of 58 min. Subsequent identification of the 103 isolates indicated that there was no relationship between species and dry-heat resistance. A theoretical dry-heat survival curve of the “population” was nonlinear. The slope of this curve was determined almost exclusively by the more resistant organisms, although they represented only a small portion of the “population.”
Samples of soil collected from the Kennedy Space Center near the spacecraft assembly facilities were found to contain microorganisms very resistant to conventional sterilzation techniques. The inactivation kinetics of the naturally occurring spores in soil were investigated by using dry heat and ionizing radiation, first separately and then simultaneously. Dry-heat inactivation kinetics of spores was determined at 105 and 125 C; radiation inactivation kinetics was determined for dose rates of 660 and 76 krads/h at 25 C. Simultaneous combinations of heat and radiation were then investigated at 105, 110, 115, 120, and 125 C, with a dose rate of 76 krads/h. Combined treatment was found to be highly synergistic, requiring greatly reduced radiation doses to accomplish sterilization of the population.
Twenty-three soil samples were collected from areas of the United States where major spacecraft assembly and launch facilities are in operation. Soil samples were treated with ethyl alcohol, ultrasonic energy, and gross filtration. The resultant suspensions consisted of viable, naturally occurring bacterial spores and were used to inoculate stainless-steel strips. The strips were suspended in a forced air oven and assays were made at 5-min intervals for the number of viable spores. Most survivor curves were nonlinear. Subsequently, spore crops of heat-sensitive and heat-resistant soil isolates were found to have linear survivor curves at 125 C which were unaffected by the presence or absence of sterile soil particles from the parent sample. When two spore crops, one of which was heat-resistant and the other heat-sensitive, were mixed, the resultant nonlinear curves were unaffected by the presence or absence of sterile parent soil. Therefore, the survivor curves obtained originally with the soils were the result of heterogeneous spore populations rather than of protection afforded by soil particles in our test system. These results question the rationale both of assuming logarithmic death and of using decimal-reduction values obtained with subcultured standard reference spores in the derivation of dry-heat sterilization cycles for items contaminated with naturally occurring spore populations.
Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032, isolated at spacecraft assembly facilities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is difficult to kill by the sterilization method of choice, which uses liquid or vapor hydrogen peroxide. We identified two manganese catalases, YjqC and BPUM_1305, in spore protein extracts of several B. pumilus strains by using PAGE and mass spectrometric analyses. While the BPUM_1305 catalase was present in six of the B. pumilus strains tested, YjqC was not detected in ATCC 7061 and BG-B79. Furthermore, both catalases were localized in the spore coat layer along with laccase and superoxide dismutase. Although the initial catalase activity in ATCC 7061 spores was higher, it was less stable over time than the SAFR-032 enzyme. We propose that synergistic activity of YjqC and BPUM_1305, along with other coat oxidoreductases, contributes to the enhanced resistance of B. pumilus spores to hydrogen peroxide. We observed that the product of the catalase reaction, gaseous oxygen, forms expanding vesicles on the spore surface, affecting the mechanical integrity of the coat layer, resulting in aggregation of the spores. The accumulation of oxygen gas and aggregations may play a crucial role in limiting further exposure of Bacilli spore surfaces to hydrogen peroxide or other toxic chemicals when water is present.
Bacillus spores are notoriously resistant to unfavorable conditions such as UV radiation, γ-radiation, H2O2, desiccation, chemical disinfection, or starvation. Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 survives standard decontamination procedures of the Jet Propulsion Lab spacecraft assembly facility, and both spores and vegetative cells of this strain exhibit elevated resistance to UV radiation and H2O2 compared to other Bacillus species.
The genome of B. pumilus SAFR-032 was sequenced and annotated. Lists of genes relevant to DNA repair and the oxidative stress response were generated and compared to B. subtilis and B. licheniformis. Differences in conservation of genes, gene order, and protein sequences are highlighted because they potentially explain the extreme resistance phenotype of B. pumilus. The B. pumilus genome includes genes not found in B. subtilis or B. licheniformis and conserved genes with sequence divergence, but paradoxically lacks several genes that function in UV or H2O2 resistance in other Bacillus species.
This study identifies several candidate genes for further research into UV and H2O2 resistance. These findings will help explain the resistance of B. pumilus and are applicable to understanding sterilization survival strategies of microbes.
Planetary quarantine requirements associated with the launch of two Viking spacecraft necessitated microbiological assessment during assembly and testing at Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. Samples were collected from selected surface of the Viking Lander Capsules (VLC), Orbiters, (VO), and Shrouds at predetermined intervals during assembly and testing. Approximately 7,000 samples were assayed. Levels of bacterial spores per square meter on the VLC-1 and VLC-2 were 1.6 x 10(2) and 9.7 x 10(1), respectively, prior to dry-heat sterilization. The ranges of aerobic mesophilic microorganisms detected on the VO-1 and VO-2 at various sampling events were 4.2 x 10(2) to 4.3 x 10(3) and 2.3 x 10(2) to 8.9 x 10(3)/m2, respectively. Approximately 1,300 colonies were picked from culture plates, identified, lypholipized, and stored for future reference. About 75% of all isolates were microorganisms considered indigenous to humans; the remaining isolates were associated with soil and dust in the environment. The percentage of microorganisms of human origin was consistent with results obtained with previous automated spacecraft but slightly lower than those observed for manned (Apollo) spacecraft.