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Microbial Playoffs in Space: Science meets sport meets awesome.


Growing microbes in space sounds cool.   Collecting microbes from sporting events is also cool (“excuse me, could I see that basketball after the game?”).  Having fans collect samples with a chance that some of them will fly to the space station is a great way to engage people.  Put them all together and you get our “Microbial Playoffs in Space”.

For this portion of the MERCCURI project we will collect microbes at sporting and other public events around the country and compete them against each other, both on Earth and on the International Space Station (ISS)

How will microbes be selected?

From each major event or venue, we will grow up several different microbes that came from that location. These will compete against each other in a growth competition. The winners will be sent into space for the playoffs. At least one microbial representative will be sent to the ISS from each location.

What does it take to be a winner?

On the space station, we will be giving out awards in three different categories:

”Best Sprinter”. For the microbial competitor who can grow the fastest during the sprinting portion of growth (technically known as the “exponential growth phase”).

-”Best Huddle”. For the microbial competitor who can grow to the highest density… really packing those cells into the space allowed.

”Best Tip Off“. For the microbial competitor who takes off growing like crazy from the start.

Why in space?

Previous work has shown that microbes grow very differently in microgravity than under normal conditions on earth. We will conduct an exact duplicate of this entire experiment back on the ground, at the same time, and compare the results. This could lead to new understandings about microbial growth mechanics or about the effects of microgravity on different microbes. This is important for space travel and habitation in environments like the ISS where people co-exist in a closed environment with microbes.

Is this dangerous?

Nope. The microbes will all be carefully identified on earth and only non-pathogenic species will be chosen for the playoffs. In addition the microbes will remain in a sealed container during flight and the experiment. At the end of the experiment the plates will be launched out of the space station and will burn up in the atmosphere (the coolest way to get rid of trash ever!)


David Coil

David Coil is a Project Scientist in the lab of Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis. David works at the intersection between research, education, and outreach in the areas of the microbiology of the built environment, microbial ecology, and bacterial genomics. Twitter

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