Microbial Astronauts: Assembling Microbial Communities for Advanced Life Support Systems

Dynamac Inc., DYN-3, John F. Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899, USA.
Microbial Ecology (Impact Factor: 3.12). 03/2004; 47(2):137-49. DOI: 10.1007/s00248-003-1060-5
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Extension of human habitation into space requires that humans carry with them many of the microorganisms with which they coexist on Earth. The ubiquity of microorganisms in close association with all living things and biogeochemical processes on Earth predicates that they must also play a critical role in maintaining the viability of human life in space. Even though bacterial populations exist as locally adapted ecotypes, the abundance of individuals in microbial species is so large that dispersal is unlikely to be limited by geographical barriers on Earth (i.e., for most environments "everything is everywhere" given enough time). This will not be true for microbial communities in space where local species richness will be relatively low because of sterilization protocols prior to launch and physical barriers between Earth and spacecraft after launch. Although community diversity will be sufficient to sustain ecosystem function at the onset, richness and evenness may decline over time such that biological systems either lose functional potential (e.g., bioreactors may fail to reduce BOD or nitrogen load) or become susceptible to invasion by human-associated microorganisms (pathogens) over time. Research at the John F. Kennedy Space Center has evaluated fundamental properties of microbial diversity and community assembly in prototype bioregenerative systems for NASA Advanced Life Support. Successional trends related to increased niche specialization, including an apparent increase in the proportion of nonculturable types of organisms, have been consistently observed. In addition, the stability of the microbial communities, as defined by their resistance to invasion by human-associated microorganisms, has been correlated to their diversity. Overall, these results reflect the significant challenges ahead for the assembly of stable, functional communities using gnotobiotic approaches, and the need to better define the basic biological principles that define ecosystem processes in the space environment.

  • 01/2007; Springer.
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    ABSTRACT: An assembled microbial community in the hydroponics solution of an advanced life support system may improve plant performance and productivity in three ways: (1) exclusion of plant pathogens from the initial community, (2) resistance to infection, and (3) plant-growth promotion. However, the plant production area is likely to have a hypobaric (low pressure) and hypoxic (low oxygen) atmosphere to reduce structural mass and atmosphere leakage, and these conditions may alter plant-microbe interactions. Plant performance and productivity of radish (Raphanus sativus L. cv. Cherry Bomb II) grown under hypobaric and hypoxic conditions were investigated at the University of Guelph's Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility. Changes in the microbial communities that routinely colonized the re-circulated nutrient solution, roots, and leaves of radishes in these experiments were quantified in terms of similarity in community composition, abundance of bacteria, and community diversity before and after exposure to hypobaric and hypoxic conditions relative to communities maintained at ambient growth conditions. The microbial succession was affected by extreme hypoxia (2 kPa oxygen partial pressure) while hypobaria as low as 10 kPa total pressure had little effect on microbial ecology. There were no correlations found between the physiological profile of these unintentional microbial communities and radish growth. The effects of hypobaric and hypoxic conditions on specific plant-microbe interactions need to be determined before beneficial gnotobiotic communities can be developed for use in space. The bacterial strains Tal 629 of Bradyrhizobium japonicum and WCS417 of Pseudomonas fluorescens, and the plant pathogen Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. raphani will be used in future experiments. B. japonicum Tal 629 promotes radish growth in hydroponics systems and P. fluorescens WCS417 induces systemic resistance to fusarium wilt (F. oxysporum f. sp. raphani) in radish under ambient conditions. Techniques used to investigate the interactions between radish and these microbes under hypobaric and hypoxic conditions will be discussed.
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    ABSTRACT: Microbial processing of liquid and solid wastes may play a role in the advanced life support systems of nearer term human exploration missions such as transit vehicles to Mars or initial surface bases on either the Moon or Mars. Recycling wastewater (urine, atmospheric condensate, hygiene water) is a critical component of reducing storage and resupply requirements on such missions, and microbial treatment of all or part of the waste stream may improve overall treatment efficiency. As small-scale plant systems (i.e., 5 10mperson) are used to supplement food storage, microbial processing of both wastewater and edible plant material will facilitate nutrient and water recycling through the biomass production systems.
    Acta Astronautica 02/2007; 60:518-524. DOI:10.1016/j.actaastro.2006.09.016 · 0.82 Impact Factor

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