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The role of microbial biofilms in deterioration of space station candidate materials.

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Laboratory of Microbial Ecology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
Harvard U, Cambridge, MA


Formation of microbial biofilms on surfaces of a wide range of materials being considered as candidates for use on the International Space Station was investigated. The materials included a fibre-reinforced polymeric composite, an adhesive sealant, a polyimide insulation foam, teflon cable insulation, titanium, and an aliphatic polyurethane coating. They were exposed to a natural mixed population of bacteria under controlled conditions of temperature and relative humidity (RH). Biofilms formed on the surfaces of the materials at a wide range of temperatures and RHs. The biofilm population was dominated by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Ochrobactrum anthropi, Alcaligenes denitrificans, Xanthomonas maltophila, and Vibrio harveyi. The biocide, diiodomethyl-p-tolyl sulfone, impregnated in the polyurethane coating, was ineffective against microbial colonization and growth. Degradation of the polyurethane coatings was monitored with electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS). The impedance spectra indicated that microbial degradation of the coating occurred in several stages. The initial decreases in impedance were due to the transport of water and solutes into the polymeric matrices. Further decreases were a result of polymer degradation by microorganisms. Our data showed that these candidate materials for space application are susceptible to biofilm formation and subsequent degradation. Our study suggests that candidate materials for use in space missions need to be carefully evaluated for their susceptibility to microbial biofilm formation and biodegradation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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