Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bacterium Survives Space

I listen to a weekly scientific themed radio show produced by TripleJ featuring Dr. Karl, a seeming encyclopedia of scientific and medical knowledge.  On the August 4, 2011 show, NASA astronaut Dr. Gregory Chamitoff co-hosted and a topic that came up briefly was using the international space station (ISS) as a research lab.  Imagine my wonder as I considered the possibility of wielding a Pipetman in outer space.  When the wonder passed and the show ended, I instead wielded the power of the keyboard and began searching for evidence of research in outer space.

I found the story of a particular microbe isolated from chips of rock off the face of a cliff located in the village of Beer, Devon, England.  The cyanobacterium survived nearly 18 months hanging off the side of the ISS.  The cyanobacterium was dubbed OU-20 because it is the twentieth new organism isolated by researchers at the Open University in Milton Keynes.

OU-20 survived the cold, dry, high UV exposure, and microgravity present in space.  The researchers responsible for isolating OU-20 upon its return to Earth postulate that this remarkable survival may be related to the formation of dense clumps.  The bacteria living on the outside of the clump might provide a shield of protection for the bacteria living towards the center of the clump.

Although all Pipetman involved in this experiment were located firmly on Earth, the results have relevance to future science in outer space.  Bacteria that can survive in space may be valuable for activities such as performing waste management processes on long-duration space travels.

Other stories of science in space include the influence of microgravity on gene expression and the illuminating tale of mutualism in space, told recently here on The Factual Enquirer.

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