Scientists may have a solution to the fungus problem on the International Space Station

The seals in the ISS’s water recovery systems were so backed up that hoses had to be returned to Earth to be cleaned and replenished. This is thanks to the buildup of biofilms: a collection of microorganisms that stick to each other, and often also to surfaces – for example, the interior of water recovery pipes. These microbial or fungal growths can clog filters in water treatment systems and make astronauts sick.

So space, like Earth, has a germ problem – so what? Because biofilms can compromise the integrity of and damage equipment, including spacesuits, recycling units, radiators and water treatment facilities, it can cost space agencies a lot of money to replace affected materials. For the entire year of 2023, NASA has allocated a huge sum $1.3 billion As part of its budget to resupply its cargo missions to the International Space Station. Preventing microbial growth on enveloped space missions will be especially critical for long missions to places like the Moon or Mars, where a quick return to Earth to repair or treat sick astronauts is less feasible.

in Mutual cooperation Between researchers at the University of Colorado, MIT and NASA Ames Research Center, the researchers studied samples from the space station using a specific and well-understood type of Gram-negative bacteria. Scientists also joined experts in liquiglide, a company run by MIT researcher Kripa Varanasi that specializes in “eliminating friction between solids and liquids.” The multidisciplinary study found that covering surfaces with a thin layer of nucleic acids inhibited bacterial growth in samples exposed to the International Space Station.

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Space Biofilm Program

Scientists concluded that these acids carry a slight negative electrical charge that prevents microbes from sticking to surfaces. However, it should be noted that the bacteria were facing a unique physical barrier as well as a chemical one: the test surfaces were etched into the “nanograss.” These silicone spikes, which resemble a mini-forest, were then lubricated with silicone oil, creating a slippery surface to which the biofilms struggled to adhere.

Applying this specific method of covering surfaces with nucleic acids to prevent biofilm buildup showed that in terrestrial samples, microbial formation was reduced by about 74 percent. Surprisingly, space station samples showed an even greater reduction of about 86 percent. but, One recommendation The team’s conclusion, based on these preliminary results, is that long-term testing should be conducted in a future mission. “We don’t know how long we will be able to maintain this performance,” said Pamela Flores, a microbiologist at the University of Colorado who participated in the study, in a recent study. statement. “So we definitely recommend a longer incubation period, and also, if possible, continuous analysis, not just endpoints.”

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