Temporal dynamics of the gut microbiota in people sharing a confined environment, a 520-day ground-based space simulation, MARS500

Microbiome. 2017 Mar 24;5(1):39. doi: 10.1186/s40168-017-0256-8.


Background: The intestinal microbial communities and their temporal dynamics are gaining increasing interest due to the significant implications for human health. Recent studies have shown the dynamic behavior of the gut microbiota in free-living, healthy persons. To date, it is not known whether these dynamics are applicable during prolonged life sharing in a confined and controlled environment.

Results: The MARS500 project, the longest ground-based space simulation ever, provided us with a unique opportunity to trace the crew microbiota over 520 days of isolated confinement, such as that faced by astronauts in real long-term interplanetary space flights, and after returning to regular life, for a total of 2 years. According to our data, even under the strictly controlled conditions of an enclosed environment, the human gut microbiota is inherently dynamic, capable of shifting between different steady states, typically with rearrangements of autochthonous members. Notwithstanding a strong individuality in the overall gut microbiota trajectory, some key microbial components showed conserved temporal dynamics, with potential implications for the maintenance of a health-promoting, mutualistic microbiota configuration.

Conclusions: Sharing life in a confined habitat does not affect the resilience of the individual gut microbial ecosystem, even in the long term. However, the temporal dynamics of certain microbiota components should be monitored when programming future mission simulations and real space flights, to prevent breakdowns in the metabolic and immunological homeostasis of the crewmembers.

Keywords: Confined environment; Gut microbiota; Life sharing; MARS500; Resilience; Space flight; Temporal dynamics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Confined Spaces*
  • Environment
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Space Flight
  • Space Simulation*
  • Systems Analysis*
  • Time Factors