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Astrobiology. 2005 Jun;5(3):391-405.

Recurrent isolation of hydrogen peroxide-resistant spores of Bacillus pumilus from a spacecraft assembly facility.

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  • 1Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91109, USA.


While the microbial diversity of a spacecraft assembly facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, CA) was being monitored, H2O2-resistant bacterial strains were repeatedly isolated from various surface locations. H2O2 is a possible sterilant for spacecraft hardware because it is a low-temperature process and compatible with various modern-day spacecraft materials, electronics, and components. Both conventional biochemical testing and molecular analyses identified these strains as Bacillus pumilus. This Bacillus species was found in both unclassified (entrance floors, anteroom, and air-lock) and classified (floors, cabinet tops, and air) locations. Both vegetative cells and spores of several B. pumilus isolates were exposed to 5% liquid H2O2 for 60 min. Spores of each strain exhibited higher resistance than their respective vegetative cells to liquid H2O2. Results indicate that the H2O2 resistance observed in both vegetative cells and spores is strain-specific, as certain B. pumilus strains were two to three times more resistant than a standard Bacillus subtilis dosimetry strain. An example of this trend was observed when the type strain of B. pumilus, ATCC 7061, proved sensitive, whereas several environmental strains exhibited varying degrees of resistance, to H2O2. Repeated isolation of H2O2-resistant strains of B. pumilus in a clean-room is a concern because their persistence might potentially compromise life-detection missions, which have very strict cleanliness and sterility requirements for spacecraft hardware.

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