Reactivation of Microbial Strains and Synthetic Communities After a Spaceflight to the International Space Station: Corroborating the Feasibility of Essential Conversions in the MELiSSA Loop

Chiara Ilgrande, Felice Mastroleo, Marlies E.R. Christiaens, Ralph E.F. Lindeboom, Delphine Prat, Olivier Van Hoey, Ivan Ambrozova, Ilse Coninx, Wietse Heylen, Andreas Pommerening-Roser, Eva Spieck, Nico Boon, Siegfried E. Vlaeminck, Natalie Leys, Peter Clauwaert

Research outputpeer-review


To sustain human deep space exploration or extra-terrestrial settlements where no resupply from the Earth or other planets is possible, technologies for in situ food production, water, air, and waste recovery need to be developed. The Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative (MELiSSA) is such a Regenerative Life Support System (RLSS) and it builds on several bacterial bioprocesses. However, alterations in gravity, temperature, and radiation associated with the space environment can affect survival and functionality of the microorganisms. In this study, representative strains of different carbon and nitrogen metabolisms with application in the MELiSSA were selected for launch and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) exposure. An edible photoautotrophic strain (Arthrospira sp. PCC 8005), a photoheterotrophic strain (Rhodospirillum rubrum S1H), a ureolytic heterotrophic strain (Cupriavidus pinatubonensis 1245), and combinations of C. pinatubonensis 1245 and autotrophic ammonia and nitrite oxidizing strains (Nitrosomonas europaea ATCC19718, Nitrosomonas ureae Nm10, and Nitrobacter winogradskyi Nb255) were sent to the International Space Station (ISS) for 7 days. There, the samples were exposed to 2.8 mGy, a dose 140 times higher than on the Earth, and a temperature of 22°C – 1°C. On return to the Earth, the cultures were reactivated and their growth and activity were compared with terrestrial controls stored under refrigerated (5°C – 2°C) or room temperature (22°C – 1°C and 21°C – 0°C) conditions. Overall, no difference was observed between terrestrial and ISS samples. Most cultures presented lower cell viability after the test, regardless of the type of exposure, indicating a harsher effect of the storage and sample preparation than the spaceflight itself. Postmission analysis revealed the successful survival and proliferation of all cultures except for Arthrospira, which suffered from the premission depressurization test. These observations validate the possibility of launching, storing, and reactivating bacteria with essential functionalities for microbial bioprocesses in RLSS.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Issue number9
StatePublished - 4 Jun 2019

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