Nitrogen cycle microorganisms can be reactivated after Space exposure

Ralph E.F. Lindeboom, Chiara Ilgrande, José M. Carvajal-Arroyo, Ilse Coninx, Olivier Van Hoey, Hugo Roume, Julia Morozova, Kai M. Udert, Benedikt Sas, Christel Paillé, Christophe Lasseur, Vyacheslav Ilyin, Peter Clauwaert, Natalie Leys, Siegfried E. Vlaeminck

Research outputpeer-review


Long-term human Space missions depend on regenerative life support systems (RLSS) to produce food, water and oxygen from waste and metabolic products. Microbial biotechnology is efficient for nitrogen conversion, with nitrate or nitrogen gas as desirable products. A prerequisite to bioreactor operation in Space is the feasibility to reactivate cells exposed to microgravity and radiation. In this study, microorganisms capable of essential nitrogen cycle conversions were sent on a 44-days FOTON-M4 flight to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and exposed to 10−3–10−4 g (gravitational constant) and 687 ± 170 μGy (Gray) d−1 (20 ± 4 °C), about the double of the radiation prevailing in the International Space Station (ISS). After return to Earth, axenic cultures, defined and reactor communities of ureolytic bacteria, ammonia oxidizing archaea and bacteria, nitrite oxidizing bacteria, denitrifiers and anammox bacteria could all be reactivated. Space exposure generally yielded similar or even higher nitrogen conversion rates as terrestrial preservation at a similar temperature, while terrestrial storage at 4 °C mostly resulted in the highest rates. Refrigerated Space exposure is proposed as a strategy to maximize the reactivation potential. For the first time, the combined potential of ureolysis, nitritation, nitratation, denitrification (nitrate reducing activity) and anammox is demonstrated as key enabler for resource recovery in human Space exploration.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13783
Number of pages7
JournalScientific Reports
StatePublished - 13 Sep 2018

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