The International Space Station is a breeding ground for new species of candidate Martian bacteria
Microbiology crosses borders as humans do, not per se (that we know of) but hand in hand with space exploration. Here we have talked about that microorganisms had survived for years in space and, given its potential, the idea now is that can be used to grow plants on Mars and other extreme environments (for life as we know it).
In February of this year, precisely, we were talking about the amazing resistance capacity of these microorganisms, a collation of the results of the MARSBOx experiment (Microbes in Atmosphere for Radiation, Survival, and Biological Outcomes Experiment). At that time it was seen that certain species of fungi and bacteria could temporarily endure on the surface of Mars (extrapolating their resistance to high radiation in the stratosphere), but what they have now discovered are four new species in the ISS, and of course they are already thinking about its usefulness.
The find: three new species
Microorganisms are the toughest living things we know (Without entering acellular life forms, such as viruses and prions, which not everyone considers to be alive). Thermophilic bacteria withstand extremely high temperatures, extreme halophiles live wonderfully in high concentrations of salt and even, as we said, there are species of bacteria that withstand radiation, such as Deinococcus radiodurans.
Not surprisingly, these organisms are called Extremophiles. The temperature record has it archaean strain 121, whose name already indicates the temperature at which it not only survives, but is also capable of reproducing.
Knowing this (and taking into account that their structure is quite different from that of our huge eukaryotic cells) it is not strange that they seem quite Martian beings. And the idea is that literally end up being.
The resistance of bacteria in space He has been studying for years, but what they have now seen in recent research is that of the four species of bacteria that they identified on eight of the surfaces of the ISS, three are new. They are species of the genus Methylobacterium, belonging to the proteobacteria and sister cousins of the Rhizobium, in both cases known to be nitrogen fixers.
Methylobacteria have already been detected in extreme environments on Earth, being known for infection problems in hospitals (mainly due to its ability to create biofilm) and, in contrast, as possible defense mechanism against phytopathogens in plants like tomatoes. And in relation to the latter are the ideas of the researchers who have discovered these new species.
As they explain in the work, the identified species was that of Methylorubrum rhodesianum The other three, designated IF7SW-B2T, IIF1SW-B5, and IIF4SW-B5, with motility and rod shape, appear to be genetically related to the species. Methylobacterium indicum. Since, as we said, gender Methylobacterium is directly involved in nitrogen fixation, phosphate solubilization and defense against phytopathogens, and relating it to the fact that they are so free living in space, the researchers believe they could help raise plants on Mars. That’s it, a little ‘The Martian’.
A possible contribution with a long way to go
In very, very broad strokes, what differentiates us from that potato that any farmer grows (or the character Mark Watney himself) is that it is our food and that hers, the potato, creates it herself, so say it. Plants are autotrophic, that is, they manufacture what they need for their metabolism from inorganic substances, so they do not need other living beings in their nutrition as we do, heterotrophs.
This mini-reminder of those Biology classes serves to link precisely with an inorganic element that we have already mentioned: the nitrogen. Plants do not take up atmospheric nitrogen (N₂) as they do take oxygen (O₂), but rather in the form of compounds such as ammonia or nitrites / nitrates (that is, associated with hydrogen or oxygen).
Those who facilitate this conversion are those nitrogen-fixing bacteria, a quality that the genera that we have mentioned have, including new species. Of course, taking into account that on Earth the approximate percentage of nitrogen in the atmosphere is 78%. In the Mars atmosphere It is 3%, so starting from here the conditions are quite different.
It should be remembered, in addition to atmospheric differences, that as Bruce Bugbee (head of a crop physiology laboratory at Utah State University) pointed to TechCrunch, the soil of Mars is very rich in oxides of many elements, such as iron, which does not favor the growth of plants. In addition, it is known that it is very basic (in terms of acidity), which also does not favor the development of vegetables.
In any case, it is still astonishing that new species are found (and new metabolic pathways!) in an environment like the International Space Station and that leaves his study very much alive. Especially with regard to how the presence of bacteria in outer space affects us, taking into account our curious relationship with them (we need them to live, but they can also kill us).
In this sense, what was studied last year is whether space could make them super-resistant. Fortunately, it was found that no, that microorganisms that grow in space at the moment are not more resistant that the “superbugs” that we already have here (and who question the future of our beloved and necessary antibiotics).
Thus, it is interesting to see that we do not neglect the development of these organisms, designed much better to endure in space than we do, no matter how much we bolt. We even saw that mushrooms can be a shield for astronauts. Let Marvel come and see.
Of course, growing plants on Mars and putting some kind of nitrifying fertilizer on them (in the hope of not taking the terrestrial problems, well) is something that for now only raise. The researchers themselves will need many more experiments to prove that the new bacteria hold the key to space farming. Something that, of course, Mark Watney would have been good to have.
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