© F.Canganella, G.Bianconi
© Государственный музей истории космонавтики им. К.Э. Циолковского, г. Калуга
Секция "К.Э. Циолковский и проблемы космической медицины и биологии"
2008 г.

Space can be easily described as an extreme environment, due to the presence of microgravity, vacuum, UV rays, space and cosmic radiations.

On Earth microorganisms are capable to stand extreme conditions and play a key-role for human health and food supply; thereof their involvement in space science is fundamental for successful long-term manned space missions.

Current microbiological research on agro-food issues for space exploration are mainly focused on: 1) survival of microorganisms to space conditions; 2) microbial/plants interactions under simulated microgravity; 3) growth-promoting bacteria for edible plants, particularly dwarf tomatoes, soybean, and rocket; 4) novel food supplements for astronauts health.

We recently investigated the response of representative non pathogenic microorganisms to the environment inside the International Space Station at different mission stages (10, 56, and 226 days). Microorganisms were chosen according to their phylogenetic position and cell structures; they were representatives of the three taxonomic domains and belonged to different ecosystems (food, soil, human intestinal tract, plants, deep-sea).

The response of microorganisms was investigated in terms of survival rates, cell structure modifications, and genomic damages. The survival of cells was affected by both radiation doses and intrinsec cell features. As expected, only samples kept on the ISS for 226 days showed significant levels of mortality. As far as regard the effect on cell structures, these samples showed also remarkable morphological changes, particularly for Escherichia coli, Enterococcus faecium, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

Further research proposals for either short-term space flights or aboard the ISS can be summarized as follow:

1) DEEP to DEEP experiment (survival of deep sea bacteria in space)

Microbial strains (psichrophilic mesophilic and thermophilic) will be fixed on solid matrix (filters) or lyophilized and evaluated for viable cells and electron microscopic morphology.

In collaboration with colleagues of JAMSTEC, Japan

2) BIOFOOD (survival of Yogurt and Cider lyophilized cultures)

Cultures of microorganisms selected to produce cider or yogurt will be lyophilized in either apple juice or skim milk, respectively, and evaluated for viable cells and electron microscopic morphology.

3) LIFEPLUS product survival and/or SF68 strain

The LIFEPLUS product, already proposed for the MARS500 programme (MICHA project) and composed by SF68 strain, honey, blueberry extract, propolis, and spirulina will be lyophilized and evaluated for viable cells

In collaboration with CERBIOS SA (Switzerland) and ABOCA SpA, (Italy)