NASA details precise microbial ‘fingerprints’ astronauts leave in space

Brittany A. Roston - May 6, 2020, 4:59pm CDT
NASA details precise microbial ‘fingerprints’ astronauts leave in space

NASA has detailed a new study that found precise microbial ‘fingerprints’ that astronauts left behind on the International Space Station. According to the research, microorganisms transferred from astronauts’ bodies to the ISS environment retained a close resemblance to their source and scientists were able to determine which part of the astronaut’s body they came from.

Humans have many microorganisms on our bodies, many of which are beneficial to health or otherwise harmless, and they are transferred to the places that people inhabit. NASA has conducted a series of experiments involving the microbes on the ISS, something that monitors for potentially harmful organisms, among other things.

In its latest release on the topic, NASA explained that researchers were able to use microbes to determine when an astronaut had arrived on the ISS and when they had departed back for Earth. Using microbiome samples collected from an astronaut who spent time on the ISS, researchers found that surface samples taken from various places in the ISS most closely resembled that of samples from the astronaut’s skin.

After the astronaut left the ISS, the study found that evidence of their microbiome lingered and was still found in lesser quantities on the space station four months later. Oddly enough, the astronauts also found that the microbiome in the astronaut’s saliva decreased while they were in space and returned to normal when they were back on land, raising concerns over spaceflight’s potential effects on dental health.

Study co-author and NASA Ames research scientist David J. Smith said, ‘From the microbe data alone, we could tell when the new person arrived and departed. We’re used to measuring the passage of time with calendars, but the microbiome transitions essentially tell the same story in this study.’

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