High-tech methods study bacteria on the International Space Station

This article is about a recent study that evaluated the contents of the International Space Station’s (ISS) HEPA filters and compared it to NASA’s clean rooms on earth. The study showed that Actinobacteria, such as Corynebacterium and Propionibacterium was found in the ISS. The ISS (which uses filtered recycled air) had more of these two types of bacteria than NASA’s clean rooms (which use fresh air). The bacteria were evaluated by their genetic sequences and found to be the commensal species.

Corynebacteria is a gram positive, rod shaped bacteria that can be aerobic or a facultative anaerobe. Depending on the species, Corynebacteria can be found in soil, water, and human skin. Non-diphtheria causing Corynebacterium is found on human skin and in mucous membranes.

Although the commensal species of Corynebacteria was found on the ISS, there are many different species of the bacteria, one of which is Corynebacterium diphtheriae, which causes the disease diphtheria. Humans are the only reservoir of the Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Diptheria can affect people of all ages, especially those that are not immunized. Symptoms include a feeling of weakness, sore throat, fever, and swollen lymphnodes in the neck. Also the bacteria toxin kills the body’s cells. The dead tissue then starts to cover the throat and nose, in a type of “pseudomembrane”, which makes it difficult for patients to breathe.

Propionibacteria is a gram positive, rod shaped, anaerobic bacteria. One species,Propionibacterium acnes, causes acne, and is found on human skin. This species does not cause disease, but was found on the ISS.

The microbes in the article have the potential to affect the health and general well-being of the astronauts in the International Space Station. For example, Propionibacterium acnesmight cause an outbreak of acne among the astronauts. This study will be important in future space travel and how space facilities should be built and maintained. Currently, if an infectious disease were to find its way on the ISS, the astronauts may not be protected, since the air is recycled. Since some bacteria are anaerobic, the air less environment of space is not a good protective measure for the astronauts.

This article can be found here.


(1) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151029190354.htm (Links to an external site.)

(2) https://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.php/Corynebacterium (Links to an external site.)

(3) http://www.cdc.gov/diphtheria/about/symptoms.html (Links to an external site.)

(4) http://www.who.int/immunization/topics/diphtheria/en/index1.html (Links to an external site.)

(5) https://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.php/Propionibacterium (Links to an external site.)

(6) http://www.microbiomejournal.com/content/3/1/50 (Links to an external site.)