Skip to page content Mission Information


Experimental Evolution of Bacillus subtilis Populations in Space; Mutation, Selection and Population Dynamics (ARC00XX177)
Principal Investigator
Research Area:
Cellular and molecular biology
Species Studied
Scientific Name: Bacillus subtilis Species: Bacteria

The proposed research aims to understand the effects of the space environment on evolutionary processes in the bacterium Bacillus subtilis. Different mutant lines will be ‘raced’ along solid surfaces to allow continuous selection in the cultures and to maximize the number of generations possible. Deep sequencing of winners will identify evolutionary rates, mechanisms, and targets of selection. We propose printing wax barriers to make paths along a growth surface (agar, membranes) and spotting each starting position of each path with dormant spores of the experimental bacteria to ‘race’ different mutants. Once on orbit, the material is wetted with growth medium, allowing the individual spots of B. subtilis to grow along their determined paths. This approach provides an opportunity for exponential growth only along the propagating edges, generating continuous bottlenecking thus amplifying selective pressures on the experimental populations. By monitoring the respective growth rate of different mutant lines maintained in each of these experimental conditions, we can estimate relative fitness of the lines. Long-term changes in relative growth rate indicate adaptation. Deep-sequencing of DNA from adapted cells (‘winners’ at the end of runs) will identify genetic changes within the respective populations. We expect that rates of mutation will differ between microgravity, 1-g, and ground controls, and that the targets of these mutations will differ as the different populations of bacteria adapt to their respective conditions. This research will also utilize the native ability of B. subtilis to uptake foreign DNA. Information-rich environmental DNA is added into the growth medium, and the populations are raced as above. By sampling the winners, and identifying if/what foreign genes are assimilated in each treatment, this experiment will identify potential genes of interest for future studies of genetic adaptation to the space environment. Our approach maximizes the number of generations possible in the 60-day window for this call, and maximizes the potential for evolutionary processes to occur. By performing multi-generational experimental evolution on bacteria on the International Space Station, the work proposed here aims to advance understanding of the evolutionary processes and challenges facing biological systems in long-term space exploration and habitation.

++ -- View more

Data Information
Data Availability
Archiving in progress. Data is not yet available for this experiment.

Additional Information
Managing NASA Center
Ames Research Center (ARC)
Responsible NASA Representative
Ames Research Center LSDA Level 3
Project Manager: Helen Stewart
Institutional Support
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Proposal Date
Proposal Source
2014 Space Biology NNH14Z