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Molecular Microbial Diversity of a Spacecraft Assembly Facility

Systematic and Applied Microbiology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1078/0723-2020-00018
  • Spacecraft Assembly Facility
  • Thermo-Tolerance
  • Bacillusspores
  • 16S Rdna Analysis
  • Rflp Analysis
  • Phylogeny
  • Biology
  • Medicine


Summary In ongoing investigations to map and archive the microbial footprints in various components of the spacecraft and its accessories, we have examined the microbial populations of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Spacecraft Assembly Facility (JPL-SAF). Witness plates made up of spacecraft materials, some painted with spacecraft qualified paints, were exposed for ∼7 to 9 months at JPL-SAF and examined the particulate materials collected for the incidence of total cultivable aerobic heterotrophs and heat-tolerant (80°C for 15-min.) spore-formers. The results showed that the witness plates coated with spacecraft qualified paints attracted more dust particles than the non-coated stainless steel witness plates. Among the four paints tested, witness plates coated with NS43G accumulated the highest number of particles, and hence attracted more cultivable microbes. The conventional microbiological examination revealed that the JPL-SAF harbors mainly Gram-positive microbes and mostly spore-forming Bacillus species. Most of the isolated microbes were heat resistant to 80°C and proliferate at 60°C. The phylogenetic relationships among 23 cultivable heat-tolerant microbes were examined using a battery of morphological, physiological, molecular and chemotaxonomic characterizations. By 16S rDNA sequence analysis, the isolates fell into seven clades: Bacillus licheniformis, B. pumilus, B. cereus, B. circulans, Staphylococcus capitis, Planococcus sp. and Micrococcus lylae. In contrast to the cultivable approach, direct DNA isolation, cloning and 16S rDNA sequencing analysis revealed equal representation of both Gram-positive and Gram-negative microorganisms.

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