Since 2009, Japanese scientists have been continuously monitoring the bacterial presence in the Japanese Experiment Module “KIBO” of the International Space Station (ISS), because it is vital to ensure microbiological control and crew safety during space habitation. Japanese scientists developed and used new microbe-collecting adhesive sheet to monitored the abundance and diversity of bacteria. This adhesive sheet has high operability, needs no water for sampling, is easy to transport and store, and can keep bacteria from degrading during prolonged storage of up to 12 months. The surface of the incubator, inside the door of the incubator, an air intake, air diffuser, and handrail were selected as sampling sites. Sampling was performed using the optimized swabbing method. By comparison, bacterial abundance on the surfaces in the Kibo, except for the return air grill, was generally lower than that on the surfaces in the laboratory on Earth.
Most bacteria detected in Kibo are commonly found on the human body, suggesting they originated from crew members. Environmental bacteria such as Legionella were also detected on the outer surface of the incubator. Legionella is normally found in aquatic and terrestrial environments, but not among human microbiota so it seems unlikely that Legionella cells were transferred to the surface from the crew, and resupply materials could be the vehicles of microbes to the space habitats. It is important to monitor the presence of such microbes on equipment and goods brought to the station. From these studies of microbial abundance and their source, scientists conclude that the Kibo module, so far, has been microbiologically well maintained; however, microbial population may increase with prolonged stay of crew members so understanding bacterial dynamics in space habitation environments, and continuous bacterial monitoring is required.
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