Team discover how microbes survive clean rooms and contaminate spacecraft

June 2, 2018, California State Polytechnic University
Team discover how microbes survive clean rooms and contaminate spacecraft
Engineers work on Opportunity (in its cruise configuration) in a cleanroom at Kennedy Space Center. A very important part of planetary protection is keeping contaminants from humans from riding aboard spacecraft. The pictured engineers are donning “bunny suits” that only allow their eyes to be exposed.

Rakesh Mogul, a Cal Poly Pomona professor of biological chemistry, was the lead author of an article in the journal Astrobiology that offers the first biochemical evidence explaining the reason the contamination persists.

Chemistry professor Gregory A. Barding, Jr., was a collaborator and second author on the paper. The remaining 22 coauthors are all Cal Poly Pomona students—14 undergraduates in , three chemistry graduate students and five undergraduates in biological sciences.

"We designed the project to give students hands-on experience – and to support the learn-by-doing philosophy of Cal Poly Pomona. The students did the research, mostly as thesis projects in the areas of enzymology, molecular microbiology and analytical chemistry," said Mogul.

In the clean room facilities, NASA implements a variety of measures to minimize biological contamination of . These steps are important because contamination by Earth-based microorganisms could compromise life-detection missions by providing false positive results.

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.

"We're giving the planetary protection community a baseline understanding of why these microorganisms remain in the clean rooms," said Mogul. "There's always stuff coming into the clean rooms, but one of the questions has been why do the microbes remain in the clean rooms, and why is there a set of microorganisms that are common to the clean rooms."

For planetary protection, this indicates that more stringent cleaning steps may be needed for missions focused on life detection and highlights the potential need to use differing and rotating cleaning reagents that are compatible with the spacecraft to control the biological burden.

Explore further: New Measures Needed to Keep NASA Spacecraft From Contaminating Mars

More information: Rakesh Mogul et al. Metabolism and Biodegradation of Spacecraft Cleaning Reagents by Strains of Spacecraft-Associated Acinetobacter, Astrobiology (2018). DOI: 10.1089/ast.2017.1814

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TheGhostofOtto1923
4.6 / 5 (5) Jun 02, 2018
"ethyl alcohol as a sole carbon source... isopropyl alcohol and Kleenol 30, two other cleaning agents commonly used..."

-Hmmm hydrocarbons... and all the landers and impactors we have sent out there to venus, the gas giants, titan, comets, all full of hydrocarbons...
https://en.wikipe...l_bodies

"For planetary protection, this indicates that more stringent cleaning steps may be needed..."

-A little late don't you think?
ZoeBell
3.5 / 5 (4) Jun 02, 2018
The human body consist more bacteria than human cells - it makes the belief in full sterilization of every manned mission to Mars illusory. Not to say about seriously minded efforts to grow plants and another organisms inside ships and future Mars colonies.
Doug_Nightmare
3 / 5 (2) Jun 02, 2018
Panspermia becomes more likely. ET sterilized the Black Monolith as best as zhe could.
rrwillsj
2.6 / 5 (5) Jun 02, 2018
Careful ZB, sounding cautiously reasonable. Some commentators to this site seriously resent any expression of rational empiricism.

Previously, I have expressed my concerns that contamination by Earth life would be misconstrued as 'proof' of alien life. And the resulting confusions threatening public support for interplanetary research.

Also, to date there is no evidence that Earth life can survive for sustained periods, outside the Earth's protective magnetosphere, in low to zero gravity.

A way to test this? How about the data collected by Mars probes doing life research. If Earth life is detected after the long voyage in the extreme environment of space? I would grudgingly accept that as a probability for the hardiest of micro-life.

To understand the consequences of being trapped for lengthy duration in a tin can? I suggest involving the info from the US Navy's submarine program. Specifically the boomers as they spend long periods skulking in isolated deep ocean.
rrwillsj
2.6 / 5 (5) Jun 02, 2018
Og, yeah, while on the subject. Does anyone else find it hilarious that germs have a drinking problem?

And achieving irony. That pathogens feast upon the cleaning products intended to eradicate them?

As the saying goes "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger!"
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (3) Jun 02, 2018
Previously I have expressed
ImeImeIme yeh we know willis, it is obvious what you are here to express.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
2.7 / 5 (3) Jun 02, 2018
Careful ZB, sounding cautiously reasonable. Some commentators to this site seriously resent any expression of rational empiricism.

Previously, I have expressed my concerns that contamination by Earth life would be misconstrued as 'proof' of alien life. And the resulting confusions threatening public support for interplanetary research.

Also, to date there is no evidence that Earth life can survive for sustained periods, outside the Earth's protective magnetosphere, in low to zero gravity...
says rrwillsj

@rrwillj
I concur. The Mars rovers are likely to have carried microbes from Earth to Mars from contaminated clean rooms. If such is the case then if the present or future rovers are equipped with devices/instruments to detect microbes, those microbes who are similar in nature to earthly microbes who actually arrived from Earth, might be mistaken for indigenous Martian microorganisms. I think that many of us share your uneasy feeling.
--CONTINUED--
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 02, 2018
--CONTINUED--
We may have contaminated our future home planet #2. On the other hand, if Mars already has home-grown microbes of its own, then they will either consume OUR microbes or somehow possibly join with them that could spell doom for our astronauts. OR it could be to the astronauts' advantage. Either way, our microbes are likely already on Mars. It would be nice if Earth's microbes that may be on Mars now are of the type that are advantageous for plant growth. But we will see.
As to your third paragraph, i believe that TARDIGRADEs were taken up to the ISS where they thrived and did not experience any ill effects due to the airless environment of space. Of course, the ISS is not THAT far away from Earth. I don't know if any Tardigrades were also sent to Mars on the rovers. Have to look that up. My colleagues think that Tardigrades are strange, but cute. I have read that they are living on all kinds of vegetation, including lettuce. They are not easily destroyed.
Steelwolf
5 / 5 (3) Jun 02, 2018
Egg, the Tardigrades, while I admit are very tough, did not actually 'Thrive' while in vacuum and radiation conditions. They were, however, in their spore form, and so were essentially already desiccated down to a self-maintained minimum humidity possible, and they survived that quite handily, the vacuum and radiation, and most of the sample so exposed came back to animation.

For thriving they would have had to have been active in, feeding and being able to breed in the near absolute vacuum and high radiation of trans lunar or trans martian crossings. But they were not doing even that much in LEO, they just huddled into their desiccated form and rode it out until there was water again. The few that died they figure was because of too much radiation damage for it to heal, but they do have ways to heal DNA that allows them to survive where very few others would, unless they too could assume spore form.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
2.6 / 5 (5) Jun 03, 2018
Thanks for the extra info, Steelwolf
The word "thrive" was incorrect. I should have said that they "existed" which would have been more accurate.
I find the little buggers/extremophiles of great interest. Referencing Wikipedia, I read that Tardigrades are not bugs at all but are within the Animal Kingdom. Astonishing because of their 8 legs and other physical attributes and abilities to handle the smallest chunks of vegetation. And, of course, they also fertilize the soils with their droppings. They are great recyclers of the detritus of Nature. They are another of the Creator's examples of forward-thinking, plus rational and progressive planning.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
5 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2018
Some commentaries makes it sound that the contamination and its extent was unknown, but the article descrtibes how it was not. Especially NASA has developed limits that, depening on the craft surface and the landing environment, has to be fulfilled. But eaxh time a NASA craft lands,its chutes carries ~ 0,5 million spores (IIRC) and much more inside on the instrument boards. Never mind that the first Russian probe crashed unregulated and so uncleaned.

If they were really concerned about lowering contamination no matter the cost, they could finish up with ionized water and supercritical CO2 washes and then heat sterilize. This work goes towards minimze cost under the current regulation.

@rrwillsj: "I have expressed my concerns that contamination by Earth life would be misconstrued as 'proof' of alien life."

Ironic: where is your "rational empiricism" basis for such concern? We can easily sequence extant life and identify such contamination.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
5 / 5 (3) Jun 03, 2018
@SEU: Tradigrades are related to bugs as in insects, a sister clade to the Lobopodia which contains Arthropods [ https://en.wikipe...rdigrade ]. Their hardiness comes from having evolved desiccation resistance. Evolution is not time traveling obviously, dry environments existed before the bugs.

And please knock off your magic formulas (non-existing "Creator"), it is rude under normal circumstances. But especially on science blogs since science now shows magic does not work (likely did not affect the universe, is for sure not part of it, especially there is no magic "soul" - says 3 different sciences by now - et cetera.). Empiricists do not care for your mumbo jumbo.

For example, a process - evolution - resulted in your Tardigrades, we know for sure zero of specifically your (or anyone else's) magic was involved. And besides that evidence how could it be involved, this happened before humans evolved and invented the idea of such magic? The presumptuousness!
Litsci
5 / 5 (1) Jun 03, 2018
Seems dumb to take so long to figure this out. Should have been a higher priority. Pretty much the equivalent of leaving garbage and graffiti in the Grand Canyon before defecating on the ground. Don't go until you're mature enough to at least be responsible. (We obviously know far too little about life on this planet.)
rrwillsj
3 / 5 (4) Jun 03, 2018
torbjorn, YOU may be competent to run the tests for sorting out possible origins from samples of micro-organisms? Or at least you may have the base of knowledge to understand the results from other researchers?

But what the hell is "rational" about public perception? Clickbait headline writers? Hysterically fulminating preachers? Uneducated politicians clamoring their way to the head of any mob of equally uneducated voters? The pseudo-scientific gibberish of conartists, hucksters and woo merchants?

For public decisions? There is damn little "rational" involved!
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 03, 2018
But what the hell is "rational" about public perception? Clickbait headline writers? Hysterically fulminating preachers? Uneducated politicians clamoring their way to the head of any mob of equally uneducated voters? The pseudo-scientific gibberish of conartists, hucksters and woo merchants?
Willis jams a dozen overused idioms into a single post thinking this will pass for erudition, and people can STILL smell the psychopathy.

Or at least, that's what gives it away.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 04, 2018
@t.b.g.
As I said, according to Wikipedia, the Tardigrade is regarded as: Kingdom - Animalia

Perhaps you may have a different understanding of the descriptive term "Animalia", but I rarely question the data in Wiki, especially in this regard since I am not an Entomologist, nor an expert on Tardigrades.
As per my previous comment to rrwillsj I fully agree with his opinion that microorganisms from Earth, upon examination by instruments that are (or will be) on Mars could very well be mistaken for indigenous Martian microorganisms, unless they are immediately or soon after recognised as having come from Earth.
However, my main concern for when the time comes, is the contamination of Earth by possible Martian microorganisms if there is such a thing as "Sample Return" or if astronauts are allowed to return to Earth.
As to your "magic formulas" I think you are pulling rabbits out of your own hat with such accusations. I never mentioned magic, occultism, etc. You are delusional.
Spacebaby2001
1 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2018
"It reaches out, it reaches out, it reaches out..."
rrwillsj
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 04, 2018
I am not convinced that Humanity will successfully colonize Mars. I define success as multigenerational. Surviving long enough to raise reasonably healthy children to adulthood. Into the future.

Only positive results will change my opinion.

However we are drifting from the purpose of this article. Describing the researchers concern about earthlife contaminating data collected during the search for exolife or at least fossils of such.

How to avoid such contamination, brings us back to the realization we should not send any humans or devices constructed on Earth to Mars or any other world we want to search for signs of indigenous life.

My idea of robot/drone/waldoe infrastructure of Lunar based unmanned, automated facilities would be the best chance for constructing a fleet of uncontaminated landers for searching large areas of Mars. Without committing biowarfare on that which we seek.

Sorry gloryhounds. You would have to find another playground to strut around.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Jun 05, 2018
I am... I define... MY opinion... MY idea...
You really are a sick little guy arent you? For instance
My idea of robot/drone/waldoe infrastructure of Lunar based unmanned, automated facilities
... you really believe this was YOUR idea?
rrwillsj
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 05, 2018
Master Obviouslyotto, Yes. Yes I am claiming the idea. I am filing the application to the U.S. Patent Office right this very minute. Thanks for the encouragement! You're an inspirational stalker, Gimli!

As for anyone whining that I do not deserve the public acclaim and incomprehensible wealth that is my due for stealing other peoples ideas? That property you have your fat butt planted on? Was claimed by other people long before you showed up to steal it.

Before you issue your hypocritical fatwas against me? Correct your own behavior!

You are all just jealous that I stole the idea for "Project Lunatic Fringe"tm before you did.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3 / 5 (2) Jun 05, 2018
LOL
@rrwillj, you DO seem to have a splendid sense of humour. Have you considered sitting in for Stephen Colbert on SNL on an unpaid voluntary basis? Although I don't think that Colbert is all that funny and he is, after all, a liberal Socialist piglet, wry humour seems to be his forte'.

I suppose that for the privilege of commenting in this site, one must be prepared to take unwarranted verbal lumps from those who are your inferiors.
WHY do you waste your time in allowing such rabble to attempt to wage war on your personality, consciousness and your mind/Soul? That is a trick that Lucifer/Satan/Devil employs to get into your head and cause confusion and anger so that you will hit out at the offender.
The topic at hand is the important thing; not the puny affectations of one with, apparently, a lack of civility along with the superiority complex of a 17 year old high school bully.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3 / 5 (2) Jun 05, 2018
I am not convinced that Humanity will successfully colonize Mars. I define success as multigenerational. Surviving long enough to raise reasonably healthy children to adulthood. Into the future.

Only positive results will change my opinion.

Describing the researchers concern about earthlife contaminating data collected during the search for exolife or at least fossils of such.

How to avoid such contamination, brings us back to the realization we should not send any humans or devices constructed on Earth to Mars or any other world we want to search for signs of indigenous life.

says rrwillsj

IF there are real indigenous microorganisms already on Mars, then they have been contaminated and are either dead or have performed conjugal relations with our own microorganisms. In either case, Mars is to be our next home planet; the jumping off point of mankind's travel TO THE STARS.
--CONTINUED--
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3 / 5 (2) Jun 05, 2018
--CONTINUED--
Quite possibly at some epoch in our planet's future, Earth may become unlivable for most of the human (and animal) population due to dynamic changes in the Earth's geological forces: volcanism running rampant at once in many locations, earthquakes, tsunamis, massive floods, wildfires in many locations, etc. In fact, such events are happening even now to some degree and will probably continue on an even bigger scale. Compared to the environment in that future Earth, Mars might be a veritable paradise. Except, of course, for the CO2 atmosphere and the chilly weather at the poles, the mid latitudes should be better adjusted to by humans.

There should always be a human presence on the Earth, no matter what, unless the planet is taking a dive into the Sun. The Creator made our planet livable for humans, plants and animals, and we have a stake in this old Earth.
rrwillsj
1 / 5 (2) Jun 05, 2018
S_E_U, I doubt that you comprehend how vast a barren wasteland Mars is. Yes we have contaminated a few hundred hectares at most With no sign of any indigenous life to 'PARHTEE!!' with in exo-conjugal relations. Alien will be alien. Seriously doubt if there would be any capability for reproduction between our two biomes.

Most likely we may perhaps discover some Mars Archaean fossils. But only if we adopt my idea of sending fleets of sterile robots to do a methodical search.

Sorry to break the news to you buddy. But Humanity is stuck to this little blue marble. Until we invent some really drastic leaps forward in technology. So far advanced that all those who choose ignorance and stuporstition? Will violently reject such an entirely new evolutionary surge of scientific knowledge.

What will we find during our "Glorious Future" among the stars? Disappointing failure. Survivors will return to whatever is left of the Earth too eke out a painful reconciliation.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
5 / 5 (1) Jun 07, 2018
S_E_U, I doubt that you comprehend how vast a barren wasteland Mars is. Yes we have contaminated a few hundred hectares at most With no sign of any indigenous life to 'PARHTEE!!' with in exo-conjugal relations. Alien will be alien. Seriously doubt if there would be any capability for reproduction between our two biomes.
says rrwillsj

Never having been to planet Mars, I can only attempt to comprehend the science that is provided by NASA, ESA and other planetary programs/endeavours. As to the possibility of indigenous microbial life on Mars, I haven't read of any microscope-type instruments that were sent to Mars with the rovers - only those to detect gases such as Methane and chemical makeup of Martian regolith. Being as it may, your opinion that there is no sign of indigenous life (microbial) is somewhat premature, IMO. Ditto with any chance that any type of Martian microorganism could possibly mate/join with earthly microbes will be found out in the future. --C'TINUED-
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
5 / 5 (1) Jun 07, 2018
-CONTINUED-

Most likely we may perhaps discover some Mars Archaean fossils. But only if we adopt my idea of sending fleets of sterile robots to do a methodical search.


In all likelihood, whether human or robot explorers sent to search for fossils on Mars, there could be a good possibility that fossils will be found while using the correct instruments. There is no reason to reject any such possibility of life having been created and evolved on Mars (or other similar planets). It has happened on Earth, so why not?

Your idea of sterile robotic researchers/explorers to be sent to Mars via lunar preparatory methods is sound, although very expensive depending on the model and its algorithms and the US/European economy at the time. Will it also take a defensive posture, e.g. hunker down in a severe sandstorm? Will it be built on the image of a C3PO type of two-legged robot? Or the usual rover line? It is fascinating and should be done PRIOR to sending humans to Mars.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
5 / 5 (1) Jun 07, 2018
-CONTINUED-
Sorry to break the news to you buddy. But Humanity is stuck to this little blue marble. Until we invent some really drastic leaps forward in technology. So far advanced that all those who choose ignorance and stuporstition? Will violently reject such an entirely new evolutionary surge of scientific knowledge.

What will we find during our "Glorious Future" among the stars? Disappointing failure. Survivors will return to whatever is left of the Earth too eke out a painful reconciliation.


@rrwillsj
Technology is rolling on continuously. In particular, researchers/scientists are utilising the internet/mass media to learn what others are researching, while hoping to go one better than their peers in whatever endeavor of the time. There is no shortage of talent, skill, knowledge, imagination, and dedication to steering humanity to a "Glorious Future", as you say. If it's being done, there is NO disappointment OR failure. Your mindset needs some improvement.
RFS_Berkeley
not rated yet Jun 14, 2018
I thought chlorine bleach was the compound of choice.

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