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Journal Club: “Crewmember microbiome may influence microbial composition of ISS habitable surfaces”

(h/t to Mark Martin for posting about this on Twitter)

A break from COVID-19… Microbes in Spaaaaaaaaaace.  (it never gets old).  This article entitled “Crewmember microbiome may influence microbial composition of ISS habitable surfaces” is a much needed addition to the literature on the ISS microbiome.  Work from our lab an others has examined the surfaces on the ISS in fair detail, but not a lot of published work has related that directly to the crewmember microbome.  It was pretty clear (and not surprising) that the microbiome of the ISS looked very much like humans (or pillows as we used to say).  But relating that to particular humans (i.e. the crew) is a nice touch.  Abstract below:

The International Space Station (ISS) is a complex built environment physically isolated from Earth. Assessing the interplay between the microbial community of the ISS and its crew is important for preventing biomedical and structural complications for long term human spaceflight missions. In this study, we describe one crewmember’s microbial profile from body swabs of mouth, nose, ear, skin and saliva that were collected at eight different time points pre-, during and post-flight. Additionally, environmental surface samples from eight different habitable locations in the ISS were collected from two flights. Environmental samples from one flight were collected by the crewmember and samples from the next flight were collected after the crewmember departed. The microbial composition in both environment and crewmember samples was measured using shotgun metagenomic sequencing and processed using the Livermore Metagenomics Analysis Toolkit. Ordination of sample to sample distances showed that of the eight crew body sites analyzed, skin, nostril, and ear samples are more similar in microbial composition to the ISS surfaces than mouth and saliva samples; and that the microbial composition of the crewmember’s skin samples are more closely related to the ISS surface samples collected by the crewmember on the same flight than ISS surface samples collected by other crewmembers on different flights. In these collections, species alpha diversity in saliva samples appears to decrease during flight and rebound after returning to Earth. This is the first study to compare the ISS microbiome to a crewmember’s microbiome via shotgun metagenomic sequencing. We observed that the microbiome of the surfaces inside the ISS resemble those of the crew’s skin. These data support future crew and ISS microbial surveillance efforts and the design of preventive measures to maintain crew habitat onboard spacecraft destined for long term space travel.


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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