Survey of the environmental biocontamination on board the International Space Station

Patrick De Boever, Natalia Novikova, Svetlana Poddubko, Elena Deshevaya, Nikolai Polikarpov, Natalia Rakova, Ilse Coninx, Max Mergeay, Paul Janssen

    Research outputpeer-review


    The International Space Station (ISS) is an orbital living and working environment extending from the original Zarya control module built in 1998. The envisioned lifetime of the completed station is around 10 years and during this period it will be constantly manned. It is inevitable that the ISS will also be home to an unknown number of microorganisms. This survey reports on the microbiological contamination in potable water, air and on surfaces inside the ISS. The viable counts in potable water did not exceed 1.0×102 CFU/mL. Sphingomonas sp. and Methylobacterium sp. were identified as the dominant genera. Molecular analysis demonstrated the presence of nucleic acids belonging to various pathogens, but no viable pathogens were recovered. More than 500 samples were collected at different locations over a period of 6 years to characterize air and surface contamination in the ISS. Concentrations of airborne bacteria and fungi were lower than 7.1×102 CFU/m³ and 4.4×101 CFU/m³, respectively. Staphylococcus sp. was by far the most dominant airborne bacterial species, whereas Aspergillus sp. and Penicillium sp. dominated the fungal population. The bacterial concentrations in surfaces samples fluctuated from 2.5×101 to 4.3×104 CFU/100 cm2. Staphylococcus sp. dominated in all of these samples. The number of fungi varied between 2.5×101 CFU/100 cm2 and 3.0×105 CFU/100 cm2, with Aspergillus sp. and Cladosporium sp. as the most dominant genera. Furthermore, the investigations identified the presence of several (opportunistic) pathogens and strains involved in the biodegradation of structural materials.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)5-12
    JournalResearch in Microbiology
    StatePublished - 13 Feb 2006

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