A pinboard by
Roshni Biswas

Undergraduate Student, National Institute of Technology, Rourkela (India)


A new metagenomics pipeline developed from open-source computational tools for Mars and ISS missions

Culture-independent approaches coupled with computational techniques will provide new insights to comprehensively characterize functional properties of microorganisms, their interactions with the environment, hosts, and infectious disease-causing potential in the spaceflight environment. Computational analytical tools are mushrooming to meet the demand of the ‘omics era and are hard to utilize for the seemingly increasing metagenomics data being generated. A metagenomic analysis and visualization pipeline has been developed with the help of open source bioinformatics tools to characterize samples collected from Spacecraft Assembly Facility, NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, and ISS.

The developed pipeline focuses on characterizing microbes and their functions by performing trimming and quality filtering, assembly, annotation, and profiling. Benchmarking and performance testing has been done against processed data available in the lab. The generated output files are compatible for NCBI tools for further downstream analysis. The entire pipeline is executable on a regular-use computer or laptop and does not require a supercomputer configuration. This simplified metagenomics pipeline is rapid (reduces months to days for 500 GB genomic data) and is useful for planetary protection engineers and astrobiologists who are not experienced with computational skills.


Stratosphere Conditions Inactivate Bacterial Endospores from a Mars Spacecraft Assembly Facility.

Abstract: Every spacecraft sent to Mars is allowed to land viable microbial bioburden, including hardy endospore-forming bacteria resistant to environmental extremes. Earth's stratosphere is severely cold, dry, irradiated, and oligotrophic; it can be used as a stand-in location for predicting how stowaway microbes might respond to the martian surface. We launched E-MIST, a high-altitude NASA balloon payload on 10 October 2015 carrying known quantities of viable Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 (4.07 × 10(7) spores per sample), a radiation-tolerant strain collected from a spacecraft assembly facility. The payload spent 8 h at ∼31 km above sea level, exposing bacterial spores to the stratosphere. We found that within 120 and 240 min, spore viability was significantly reduced by 2 and 4 orders of magnitude, respectively. By 480 min, <0.001% of spores carried to the stratosphere remained viable. Our balloon flight results predict that most terrestrial bacteria would be inactivated within the first sol on Mars if contaminated spacecraft surfaces receive direct sunlight. Unfortunately, an instrument malfunction prevented the acquisition of UV light measurements during our balloon mission. To make up for the absence of radiometer data, we calculated a stratosphere UV model and conducted ground tests with a 271.1 nm UVC light source (0.5 W/m(2)), observing a similarly rapid inactivation rate when using a lower number of contaminants (640 spores per sample). The starting concentration of spores and microconfiguration on hardware surfaces appeared to influence survivability outcomes in both experiments. With the relatively few spores that survived the stratosphere, we performed a resequencing analysis and identified three single nucleotide polymorphisms compared to unexposed controls. It is therefore plausible that bacteria enduring radiation-rich environments (e.g., Earth's upper atmosphere, interplanetary space, or the surface of Mars) may be pushed in evolutionarily consequential directions. Key Words: Planetary protection-Stratosphere-Balloon-Mars analog environment-E-MIST payload-Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032. Astrobiology 17, xxx-xxx.

Pub.: 23 Mar '17, Pinned: 16 Nov '17

Survival of spacecraft-associated microorganisms under simulated martian UV irradiation.

Abstract: Spore-forming microbes recovered from spacecraft surfaces and assembly facilities were exposed to simulated Martian UV irradiation. The effects of UVA (315 to 400 nm), UVA+B (280 to 400 nm), and the full UV spectrum (200 to 400 nm) on the survival of microorganisms were studied at UV intensities expected to strike the surfaces of Mars. Microbial species isolated from the surfaces of several spacecraft, including Mars Odyssey, X-2000 (avionics), and the International Space Station, and their assembly facilities were identified using 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Forty-three Bacillus spore lines were screened, and 19 isolates showed resistance to UVC irradiation (200 to 280 nm) after exposure to 1,000 J m(-2) of UVC irradiation at 254 nm using a low-pressure mercury lamp. Spores of Bacillus species isolated from spacecraft-associated surfaces were more resistant than a standard dosimetric strain, Bacillus subtilis 168. In addition, the exposure time required for UVA+B irradiation to reduce the viable spore numbers by 90% was 35-fold longer than the exposure time required for the full UV spectrum to do this, confirming that UVC is the primary biocidal bandwidth. Among the Bacillus species tested, spores of a Bacillus pumilus strain showed the greatest resistance to all three UV bandwidths, as well as the total spectrum. The resistance to simulated Mars UV irradiation was strain specific; B. pumilus SAFR-032 exhibited greater resistance than all other strains tested. The isolation of organisms like B. pumilus SAFR-032 and the greater survival of this organism (sixfold) than of the standard dosimetric strains should be considered when the sanitation capabilities of UV irradiation are determined.

Pub.: 08 Dec '05, Pinned: 16 Nov '17

Survival of Bacillus pumilus spores for a prolonged period of time in real space conditions.

Abstract: To prevent forward contamination and maintain the scientific integrity of future life-detection missions, it is important to characterize and attempt to eliminate terrestrial microorganisms associated with exploratory spacecraft and landing vehicles. Among the organisms isolated from spacecraft-associated surfaces, spores of Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 exhibited unusually high resistance to decontamination techniques such as UV radiation and peroxide treatment. Subsequently, B. pumilus SAFR-032 was flown to the International Space Station (ISS) and exposed to a variety of space conditions via the European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF). After 18 months of exposure in the EXPOSE facility of the European Space Agency (ESA) on EuTEF under dark space conditions, SAFR-032 spores showed 10-40% survivability, whereas a survival rate of 85-100% was observed when these spores were kept aboard the ISS under dark simulated martian atmospheric conditions. In contrast, when UV (>110 nm) was applied on SAFR-032 spores for the same time period and under the same conditions used in EXPOSE, a ∼7-log reduction in viability was observed. A parallel experiment was conducted on Earth with identical samples under simulated space conditions. Spores exposed to ground simulations showed less of a reduction in viability when compared with the "real space" exposed spores (∼3-log reduction in viability for "UV-Mars," and ∼4-log reduction in viability for "UV-Space"). A comparative proteomics analysis indicated that proteins conferring resistant traits (superoxide dismutase) were present in higher concentration in space-exposed spores when compared to controls. Also, the first-generation cells and spores derived from space-exposed samples exhibited elevated UVC resistance when compared with their ground control counterparts. The data generated are important for calculating the probability and mechanisms of microbial survival in space conditions and assessing microbial contaminants as risks for forward contamination and in situ life detection.

Pub.: 12 Jun '12, Pinned: 16 Nov '17