In the framework of the Genes in the Space-3 project, astronauts and biochemists from NASA have managed to successfully identify microbes on board the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time in history, marking the successful finalization of a task that scientists have been working on for a long time.
Sequencing these microbes in space could help diagnose ailments in astronauts, research how microbes survive in microgravity, and even identify potential extraterrestrial life, says a statement issued by NASA.
While the microbes aren’t aliens, the discovery and process are of great importance.
Astronauts identified microbes that swarm commonly where humans live … However, NASA did not specify exactly what species they belonged to.
Because the microorganisms were living outside the international space station, it demonstrates their ability to survive in a vacuum. Furthermore, as astronauts were able to identify them quickly in situ, it will help similar future experiments discard or confirm whether microbes are alien or not.
Until now, the only way of successfully identifying microbes on the ISS was to send them back to Earth for analysis.
The microbes had been sequenced on board, but those samples had been prepared on Earth.
Until now there was no way to find something in space and identify it genetically immediately.
So how did Astronauts identify them?
The identification process of the microbes was carried out in two steps: first, samples were collected and subjected to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique that amplifies a DNA sample to create many of its copies; then, the microbes were sequenced and identified, using Petri dishes to collect samples from various surfaces around the space station that grew for a week before transferring them to small test tubes within the Microgravity Science Glovebox, marking the first time something like this has been completed in space.
More science onboard the ISS
More experiments are already aligned up.
A project of the European Space Agency, ESA, will be carried out to produce oxygen in spacecraft with the aid of microalgae, and thus avoid the need to transport it from Earth.
The creation of oxygen with plants, which on our planet is a routine process, has to be tested in space before being used in the near future.
Although oxygen is periodically replenished by cargo ships such as the Dragon, the space flights of the future aim to be self-sufficient, and for this, we will have to recycle and reuse resources such as oxygen.
Researchers from the Artemiss pilot project will analyze how photosynthesis – the process by which organisms convert light into energy, releasing oxygen as a byproduct – takes place in space.
Hopefully, this project will result successful and if it does show to be something that can be done, it would greatly help us explore our solar system and colonize planets and moons in the distant future.