Skip to page content Mission Information


Microbial social behavior and heritable genetic or epigenetic changes affected by the spaceflight environment: Understanding the evolution of microbial interactions during spaceflight (80NSSC19K1597)
Research Area:
Cell and molecular biology
Species Studied
Scientific Name: Ralstonia insidiosa Species: Bacteria
Scientific Name: Sphingomonas sanguinis Species: Bacteria

Microorganisms are important regulators of human health and can impact the function and integrity of human built environments, including the International Space Station (ISS). Microbes within the ISS are constantly exposed and adapted to the unique spaceflight environment which include microgravity, low fluid shear and enhanced radiation. A variety of microbial isolates have been recovered from the ISS, including the potable water system. The ISS Water Recovery System recycles urine, condensation, and wastewater. Astronauts rely on the recycled portable water for survival. Most of the microbes recovered from ISS portable water are known biofilm formers, which can cause infections or damages in system function and integrity, thus can be a serious threat to onboard systems operation and crew health. Therefore, it is critical to understand how microbes in the ISS water system adapt and evolve over time. Microbes naturally exist as mixed-species communities where they actively communicate and interact with neighboring cells. They adapt and evolve over time within the mixed-species populations. While many studies have shown that the spaceflight environment (and ground-based spaceflight analogues) impacts microbial biological processes, most of these previous experiments were based on single-species cultures. It is still unclear how the spaceflight environment influences microbial social behaviors and how their interaction in the mixed-species community contributes to microbial evolutionary processes in the spaceflight environment. Understanding the effects of the spaceflight environment on the changes in microbial social behavior and the associating evolutionary mechanisms will be important for spaceflight design, operations, and astronaut health. It is particularly important in regard to preparation for long-duration life support systems during future exploration missions far from Earth. The goal of this proposal is to determine whether the spaceflight environment is responsible for changes in microbial social behavior in community and evolutionary processes, as well as how the ecological success within the mixed-species population in the spaceflight environment contributes to microbial evolution over time.

The goal of the proposed investigation is to find answers to the following questions:
1. Is the distinct social behavior of ISS potable water isolates associated with heritable genetic changes?
2. Is the spaceflight effect responsible for the distinct social behavior of ISS water isolates?

++ -- View more

Gene expression

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
2018 Space Biology (ROSBio) NNH18ZTT001N-FG