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Microb Ecol. 2004 Feb;47(2):150-8. Epub 2004 Feb 2.

Microbial monitoring of spacecraft and associated environments.

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


Rapid microbial monitoring technologies are invaluable in assessing contamination of spacecraft and associated environments. Universal and widespread elements of microbial structure and chemistry are logical targets for assessing microbial burden. Several biomarkers such as ATP, LPS, and DNA (ribosomal or spore-specific), were targeted to quantify either total bioburden or specific types of microbial contamination. The findings of these assays were compared with conventional, culture-dependent methods. This review evaluates the applicability and efficacy of some of these methods in monitoring the microbial burden of spacecraft and associated environments. Samples were collected from the surfaces of spacecraft, from surfaces of assembly facilities, and from drinking water reservoirs aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Culture-dependent techniques found species of Bacillus to be dominant on these surfaces. In contrast, rapid, culture-independent techniques revealed the presence of many Gram-positive and Gram-negative microorganisms, as well as actinomycetes and fungi. These included both cultivable and noncultivable microbes, findings further confirmed by DNA-based microbial detection techniques. Although the ISS drinking water was devoid of cultivable microbes, molecular-based techniques retrieved DNA sequences of numerous opportunistic pathogens. Each of the methods tested in this study has its advantages, and by coupling two or more of these techniques even more reliable information as to microbial burden is rapidly obtained.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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