Cheering microbes into space

Dec 07, 2012

A University of California, Davis, microbiologist and a professional cheerleader are teaming up with "citizen scientists" to send microbes to the International Space Station and study their growth.

The project is one of eight announced Nov. 29 as winners of the Research Competition sponsored by Space Florida and Nanoracks Inc.

The team is led by Professor Jonathan Eisen at the UC Davis Genome Center and " Cheerleader" Wendy Brown, a graduate student in biomedical engineering who has cheered for the Sacramento , Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Falcons. Brown will work with the Science Cheerleader organization and SciStarter.com to recruit school kids and volunteers to take part. Participants will collect microbial samples from a wide range of environments on Earth, including sports venues, schools and homes.

Eisen's lab will use to identify the microbes in the samples. In addition, microbes from some of the samples will be grown in Eisen's laboratory, packaged and flown to the International on a commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, set for launch in December 2013. The crew will measure how well the microorganisms grow in orbit.

In a second arm of the project, astronauts will swab different areas of the space station itself, and the swabs will be sent to Eisen's lab for DNA analysis.

A major goal of the project is to involve the public in science, especially people who are not normally engaged by science, Brown said. Participants will get feedback on how well their samples are doing. For example, there will be a "playoff" competition between samples from different stadiums.

"Will your sample grow faster than someone else's?" Brown said.

For Eisen, it's an opportunity to study the microscopic life of a unique building—the International Space Station, where astronauts live and work. With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, his laboratory has been working on outreach and educational activities relating to DNA-based studies of "microbial ecology of the built environment" (see microBE.net for details on their work).

"If we want to engage the public in the microbial ecology of buildings, we need to find interesting buildings to work on," he said.

The International Space Station makes an interesting comparison with buildings on Earth for several reasons, Eisen said. For example, radiation levels are higher than on the ground, and the only way new microbes can enter is through the people and equipment that get delivered via space vehicle.

The Science Cheerleaders are a group of current and former professional sports cheerleaders pursuing careers in science. They aim to overturn stereotypes, promote broad engagement in science, and encourage young women to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Explore further: Total lunar eclipse before dawn on April 4th

Related Stories

NASA to deliver commercial research equipment to station

Feb 16, 2012

NASA, Astrium Space Transportation and NanoRacks LLC are teaming up to expand the research capability of the International Space Station through delivery of a small commercial centrifuge facility that will conduct molecular ...

Recommended for you

Total lunar eclipse before dawn on April 4th

2 hours ago

An unusually brief total eclipse of the Moon will be visible before dawn this Saturday, April 4th, from western North America. The eclipse happens on Saturday evening for Australia and East Asia.

Cassini: Return to Rhea

15 hours ago

After a couple of years in high-inclination orbits that limited its ability to encounter Saturn's moons, NASA's Cassini spacecraft returned to Saturn's equatorial plane in March 2015.

Comet dust—planet Mercury's 'invisible paint'

22 hours ago

A team of scientists has a new explanation for the planet Mercury's dark, barely reflective surface. In a paper published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers suggest that a steady dusting of carbon from p ...

It's 'full spin ahead' for NASA soil moisture mapper

Mar 30, 2015

The 20-foot (6-meter) "golden lasso" reflector antenna atop NASA's new Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory is now ready to wrangle up high-resolution global soil moisture data, following the successful ...

What drives the solar cycle?

Mar 30, 2015

You can be thankful that we bask in the glow of a relatively placid star. Currently about halfway along its 10 billion year career on the Main Sequence, our sun fuses hydrogen into helium in a battle against ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gwrede
not rated yet Dec 07, 2012
"They aim to overturn stereotypes, promote broad engagement in science, and encourage young women to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and math."

I sincerely wish them luck!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.