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1.  Microbial Existence in Controlled Habitats and Their Resistance to Space Conditions 
Microbes and Environments  2014;29(3):243-249.
The National Research Council (NRC) has recently recognized the International Space Station (ISS) as uniquely suitable for furthering the study of microbial species in closed habitats. Answering the NRC’s call for the study, in particular, of uncommon microbial species in the ISS, and/or of those that have significantly increased or decreased in number, space microbiologists have begun capitalizing on the maturity, speed, and cost-effectiveness of molecular/genomic microbiological technologies to elucidate changes in microbial populations in the ISS and other closed habitats. Since investigators can only collect samples infrequently from the ISS itself due to logistical reasons, Earth analogs, such as spacecraft-assembly clean rooms, are used and extensively characterized for the presence of microbes. Microbiologists identify the predominant, problematic, and extremophilic microbial species in these closed habitats and use the ISS as a testbed to study their resistance to extreme extraterrestrial environmental conditions. Investigators monitor the microbes exposed to the real space conditions in order to track their genomic changes in response to the selective pressures present in outer space (external to the ISS) and the spaceflight (in the interior of the ISS). In this review, we discussed the presence of microbes in space research-related closed habitats and the resistance of some microbial species to the extreme environmental conditions of space.
PMCID: PMC4159035  PMID: 25130881
Closed habitat; International Space Station; PLANET PROTECT; BOSS; Microbial Observatory
2.  New perspectives on viable microbial communities in low-biomass cleanroom environments 
The ISME Journal  2012;7(2):312-324.
The advent of phylogenetic DNA microarrays and high-throughput pyrosequencing technologies has dramatically increased the resolution and accuracy of detection of distinct microbial lineages in mixed microbial assemblages. Despite an expanding array of approaches for detecting microbes in a given sample, rapid and robust means of assessing the differential viability of these cells, as a function of phylogenetic lineage, remain elusive. In this study, pre-PCR propidium monoazide (PMA) treatment was coupled with downstream pyrosequencing and PhyloChip DNA microarray analyses to better understand the frequency, diversity and distribution of viable bacteria in spacecraft assembly cleanrooms. Sample fractions not treated with PMA, which were indicative of the presence of both live and dead cells, yielded a great abundance of highly diverse bacterial pyrosequences. In contrast, only 1% to 10% of all of the pyrosequencing reads, arising from a few robust bacterial lineages, originated from sample fractions that had been pre-treated with PMA. The results of PhyloChip analyses of PMA-treated and -untreated sample fractions were in agreement with those of pyrosequencing. The viable bacterial population detected in cleanrooms devoid of spacecraft hardware was far more diverse than that observed in cleanrooms that housed mission-critical spacecraft hardware. The latter was dominated by hardy, robust organisms previously reported to survive in oligotrophic cleanroom environments. Presented here are the findings of the first ever comprehensive effort to assess the viability of cells in low-biomass environmental samples, and correlate differential viability with phylogenetic affiliation.
PMCID: PMC3554398  PMID: 23051695
viability; microarray; 454 pyrosequencing; PMA; PhyloChip; 16S rRNA gene
3.  Pyrosequencing-Derived Bacterial, Archaeal, and Fungal Diversity of Spacecraft Hardware Destined for Mars 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(16):5912-5922.
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.
PMCID: PMC3406123  PMID: 22729532
4.  Comparison of Innovative Molecular Approaches and Standard Spore Assays for Assessment of Surface Cleanliness ▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(15):5438-5444.
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.
PMCID: PMC3147454  PMID: 21652744
5.  Comprehensive Census of Bacteria in Clean Rooms by Using DNA Microarray and Cloning Methods▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2009;75(20):6559-6567.
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.
PMCID: PMC2765134  PMID: 19700540
6.  Effect of Shadowing on Survival of Bacteria under Conditions Simulating the Martian Atmosphere and UV Radiation▿ †  
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.
PMCID: PMC2258572  PMID: 18083857
7.  Isolation and Characterization of Bacteria Capable of Tolerating the Extreme Conditions of Clean Room Environments▿  
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.
PMCID: PMC1855582  PMID: 17308177
8.  Species Differentiation of a Diverse Suite of Bacillus Spores by Mass Spectrometry-Based Protein Profiling 
In this study, we demonstrate the versatility of matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization-time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOFMS) protein profiling for the species differentiation of a diverse suite of Bacillus spores. MALDI-TOFMS protein profiles of 11 different strains of Bacillus spores, encompassing nine different species, were evaluated. Bacillus species selected for MALDI-TOFMS analysis represented the spore-forming bacterial diversity of typical class 100K clean room spacecraft assembly facilities. A one-step sample treatment and MALDI-TOFMS preparation were used to minimize the sample preparation time. A library of MALDI-TOFMS spectra was created from these nine Bacillus species, the most diverse protein profiling study of the genus reported to date. Linear correlation analysis was used to successfully differentiate the MALDI-TOFMS protein profiles from all strains evaluated in this study. The MALDI-TOFMS protein profiles were compared with 16S rDNA sequences for their bacterial systematics and molecular phylogenetic affiliations. The MALDI-TOFMS profiles were found to be complementary to the 16S rDNA analysis. Proteomic studies of Bacillus subtilis 168 were pursued to identify proteins represented by the biomarker peaks in the MALDI-TOFMS spectrum. Four small, acid-soluble proteins (A, B, C, and D), one DNA binding protein, hypothetical protein ymf J, and four proteins associated with the spore coat and spore coat formation (coat JB, coat F, coat T, and spoIVA) were identified. The ability to visualize higher-molecular-mass coat proteins (10 to 25 kDa) as well as smaller proteins (<10 kDa) with MALDI-TOFMS profiling is critical for the complete and effective species differentiation of the Bacillus genus.
PMCID: PMC321296  PMID: 14711677
9.  Bacteria and Archaea Physically Associated with Gulf of Mexico Gas Hydrates 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2001;67(11):5143-5153.
Although there is significant interest in the potential interactions of microbes with gas hydrate, no direct physical association between them has been demonstrated. We examined several intact samples of naturally occurring gas hydrate from the Gulf of Mexico for evidence of microbes. All samples were collected from anaerobic hemipelagic mud within the gas hydrate stability zone, at water depths in the ca. 540- to 2,000-m range. The δ13C of hydrate-bound methane varied from −45.1‰ Peedee belemnite (PDB) to −74.7‰ PDB, reflecting different gas origins. Stable isotope composition data indicated microbial consumption of methane or propane in some of the samples. Evidence of the presence of microbes was initially determined by 4,6-diamidino 2-phenylindole dihydrochloride (DAPI) total direct counts of hydrate-associated sediments (mean = 1.5 × 109 cells g−1) and gas hydrate (mean = 1.0 × 106 cells ml−1). Small-subunit rRNA phylogenetic characterization was performed to assess the composition of the microbial community in one gas hydrate sample (AT425) that had no detectable associated sediment and showed evidence of microbial methane consumption. Bacteria were moderately diverse within AT425 and were dominated by gene sequences related to several groups of Proteobacteria, as well as Actinobacteria and low-G + C Firmicutes. In contrast, there was low diversity of Archaea, nearly all of which were related to methanogenic Archaea, with the majority specifically related to Methanosaeta spp. The results of this study suggest that there is a direct association between microbes and gas hydrate, a finding that may have significance for hydrocarbon flux into the Gulf of Mexico and for life in extreme environments.
PMCID: PMC93283  PMID: 11679338

Results 1-9 (9)