Certain microbes survive in clean rooms by eating the cleaning fluids


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Researchers have found that the reason certain microbes seem to survive in all spacecraft clean rooms is that those microbes actually live off the very cleaning fluids used to scrub the rooms.

Despite extensive cleaning procedures, however, molecular genetic analyses show that the clean rooms harbor a diverse collection of microorganisms, or a spacecraft microbiome, that includes bacteria, archaea and fungi, explained Mogul. The Acinetobacter, a genus of bacteria, are among the dominant members of the spacecraft microbiome.

To figure out how the spacecraft microbiome survives in the cleanroom facilities, the research team analyzed several Acinetobacter strains that were originally isolated from the Mars Odyssey and Phoenix spacecraft facilities.

They found that under very nutrient-restricted conditions, most of the tested strains grew on and biodegraded the cleaning agents used during spacecraft assembly. The work showed that cultures grew on ethyl alcohol as a sole carbon source while displaying reasonable tolerances towards oxidative stress. This is important since oxidative stress is associated with desiccating and high radiation environments similar to Mars.

The tested strains were also able to biodegrade isopropyl alcohol and Kleenol 30, two other cleaning agents commonly used, with these products potentially serving as energy sources for the microbiome.

With this information, the space engineering community will be able to refine their clean room operations to eliminate these microbes so as to better sterilize spacecraft heading on life-seeking missions.

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7 comments

  • pzatchok

    We ARE going to contaminate other planets with all kinds of microbes. It will happen.

    Science believes that planets and moons have exchanged material in the recent past. So if they exchanged material why not life forms?

    By accepting this we must accept that ALL bodies in our solar system are already contaminated.
    This present search for microbial life is a waste of money and time. We will find it and find out it is similar to stuff on Earth. Then we will find out we contaminated the area just by landing and sampling.

    I can understand clean but seriously, sometimes it gets a bit exacting.
    Another million dollar study of something that have never effected spaceflight before and may never effect it for 100 years or more.

    By making these areas antiseptically clean we are creating an environment for a new extremophile to evolve and grow that might eventually lead to the deaths of astronauts isolated in space. Or even one that eventually ends up eating the very stuff the craft are made of, like plastic.

    Heck the food industry isn’t this strict and peoples lives are directly impacted. Daily.

  • Mike Borgelt

    Once life gets going on a nice sterile ball of rock and mud there is no stopping it. Stuff goes to all sorts of lengths to reproduce including developing higher life forms, intelligence and the ability to spread throughout the universe.

  • Robert Pratt

    Life! So robust and get still unique and precious.

  • Max

    Spread throughout the universe? With even the military releasing movies of UFO’s doing strange things, it’s entirely possible that this scenario has been occurring for millions of years.
    This could make all life forms genetically similar from the same batch source. If not, a visitor could quite accidentally release a pathogen that would sterilize this world.
    (This scenario has been the theme of dozens of books and movies. Even Star Trek the next generation had an episode detailing The spreading of life from a single source when the galaxy was young by a race that wish to terraform every planet they came across)

  • Alex Andrite

    Please note, that a similar ‘contamination’ issue of “surgical” clean rooms, containing a “diverse collection of microorganisms”, has occurred due to and during our rapid evacuation of wounded soldiers from middle eastern battle fields, sterile clean room, hospitals in the middle east, across and through Europe to State side hospitals. Walter Reed exactly.
    The ‘contamination’ was of a “diverse collection of microorganisms” not seen before in the States, and was very compatible living within the sterile environments found here. No mutants have been found so far. (sorry, I could not resist).
    Forgive me please for a lack of references, this subject was published a couple of years ago, and intrigued me, and it was a major subject for review at Walter Reed, along with all of the transportation methods and routes associated with same.
    Perhaps no news is good news regarding this instance.

  • Localfluff

    Carbonless antibiotics sounds like a good idea. I bet there are microbes that would eat diamond if they had to as a source of coal.

  • Jwing

    Newsflash: Life is dirty.

    Without bacteria in every niche, life as we know it would not be possible.
    We require bacteria living symbiotically in our guts in order to break down nutrients and provide us with essential vitamins.
    Without bacteria, nothing would decay, nothing would return to basic building blocks.
    Bacteria are entropy’s necessary helpers.
    Thanks to enteric bacteria, our feces is brown instead of bile green!
    😁👍

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