How well do microbes grow on the ISS?

Posted Jun 2, 2015 by Tim Sandle
Scientists are curious to know whether microbes isolated from Earth grow in the same way on board the International Space Station (ISS). Such information is important for long-distance space travel.
The shuttle Endeavor docked at the ISS. This photo was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nesp...
The shuttle Endeavor docked at the ISS. This photo was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on May 23, 2011.
NASA / Paolo Nespoli
To test variations in growth and biochemical activity, a science team set up Project MERCCURI. The team are based at the Jonathan Eisen Laboratory, University of California, Davis. To obtain a broad array of microorganisms the scientists called upon a team of citizen scientists to collect samples and submit them for consideration.
The key aspect was to explore how microorganisms associated with a human behave in space. This was to evaluate whether there is any danger of pathogens outgrowing beneficial bacteria and to see if there would be any consequences for long-distant space flights. The researchers were also interested in how beneficial microbes behave in zero-gravity conditions over prolonged periods of time.
The samples were gathered as part of a citizen science campaign. Keen amateur scientists gathered samples from a range of areas frequented by people, including inside and outside of buildings throughout the U.S. Perhaps the most interesting location sampled was the Liberty Bell.
Other interesting isolates were:
Yuri's Night, Los Angeles: Kocuria rhizophila was collected on a camera at a Yuri's Night Party with Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon.
Pop Warner Chittenango: Bacillus pumilus was collected on a Porta-Potty handle by Pop Warner Chittenango Bears cheerleaders
Oakland Raiders: Bacillus aryabhatti, collected on an Oakland Raiders' practice football field
In the end 48 different microorganisms were shortlisted and sent on the SpaceX Falcon 9 to the ISS. The microbes were then studied under a variety of conditions.
The researchers found that, in general, the microbes behaved in the same way on ISS as they would on Earth. A few microbes behaved differently, and these are currently being subjected to analysis. The research has yet to be published.
In related news, scientists are busy exploring the impact of long-distance space travel on human physiology. This includes determining if space travel leads to a thinning of the skin and related health issues.