Recurrent isolation of extremotolerant bacteria from the clean room where Phoenix spacecraft components were assembled

Astrobiology. 2010 Apr;10(3):325-35. doi: 10.1089/ast.2009.0396.


The microbial burden of the Phoenix spacecraft assembly environment was assessed in a systematic manner via several cultivation-based techniques and a suite of NASA-certified, cultivation-independent biomolecule-based detection assays. Extremotolerant bacteria that could potentially survive conditions experienced en route to Mars or on the planet's surface were isolated with a series of cultivation-based assays that promoted the growth of a variety of organisms, including spore formers, mesophilic heterotrophs, anaerobes, thermophiles, psychrophiles, alkaliphiles, and bacteria resistant to UVC radiation and hydrogen peroxide exposure. Samples were collected from the clean room where Phoenix was housed at three different time points, before (1P), during (2P), and after (3P) Phoenix's presence at the facility. There was a reduction in microbial burden of most bacterial groups, including spore formers, in samples 2P and 3P. Analysis of 262 isolates from the facility demonstrated that there was also a shift in predominant cultivable bacterial populations accompanied by a reduction in diversity during 2P and 3P. It is suggested that this shift was a result of increased cleaning when Phoenix was present in the assembly facility and that certain species, such as Acinetobacter johnsonii and Brevundimonas diminuta, may be better adapted to environmental conditions found during 2P and 3P. In addition, problematic bacteria resistant to multiple extreme conditions, such as Bacillus pumilus, were able to survive these periods of increased cleaning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Biodiversity
  • Environment, Controlled*
  • Equipment Contamination* / prevention & control
  • Exobiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Spacecraft / instrumentation*