Microbial Characteristics of ISS Environmental Surfaces
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The microbiome of environmental surfaces from the International Space Station were characterized in order to examine the relationship to crew and hardware maintenance. The Microbial Observatory (ISS-MO) experiment generated a microbial census of ISS environments using advanced molecular microbial community analyses along with traditional culture-based methods. Since the “omics” methodologies generated an extensive microbial census, significant insights into spaceflight-induced changes in the populations of beneficial and/or potentially harmful microbes were gained. Surface samples were collected from several ISS surface locations from three flight opportunities, and were returned to Earth via the Soyuz TMA-14M or the Space X Dragon capsule. In addition to cultivation methods, viable microbial burden, iTag-based sequencing, and metagenome analyses were carried out. The cultivable microbial bioburden differed by location and sampling event. Exploring the ISS environmental microbiome revealed presence of opportunistic pathogens and antibiotic resistant microbes. Genes involved in ATP binding cassette transporters, two component systems, and beta-lactam resistance were among a diverse set of metabolic and genetic information processing pathways. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) of 50 ISS strains exhibiting resistance to various antibiotics was carried out. The antibiotic resistant genes deduced from the WGS were compared with the resistomes generated directly from the gene pool of the environmental samples. Two unique Aspergillus fumigatus strains isolated from the ISS were characterized and compared to the experimentally established clinical isolates Af293 and CEA10. A virulence assessment in a neutrophil-deficient larval zebrafish model of invasive aspergillosis indicated that both ISSFT-021 and IF1SW-F4 were significantly more lethal compared to Af293 and CEA10. The findings from this Environmental “Omics” project should be exploited to enhance human health and well-being of a closed system. In other words, the ISS-MO research aims to "translate" findings in fundamental research into medical practice (pathogen detection) and meaningful health outcomes (countermeasure development).