New Bacteria Found in NASA, ESA Clean Rooms


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Researchers this week revealed that a new genus of bacteria has been discovered in some of the cleanest places on Earth. A paper published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology names the new bacteria "Tersicoccus phoenicis."

The "berry-shaped" bacteria was found in spacecraft clean rooms on two different continents. One was a NASA clean room located at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the other is a European Space Agency (ESA) clean room located in Kourou, French Guiana. Spacecraft clean rooms are kept spotless to ensure that no contamination from Earth escapes the planet on spacecrafts. The rooms are cleaned with chemicals, ultraviolet radiation, heat, and other methods.

Researchers are now sequencing the bacteria's DNA and developing methods to eliminate the bacteria from clean rooms.

"We want to have a better understanding of these bugs, because the capabilities that adapt them for surviving in clean rooms might also let them survive on a spacecraft," said Parag Vaishampayan, lead author of the paper and a microbiologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "This particular bug survives with almost no nutrients."

According to NASA, microbiologists often survey the bacteria able to survive in clean rooms. Though other new species of bacteria have been found in clean rooms, Tersicoccus phoenicis is the first to be discovered in a clean room but not outside of one. Existing bacteria databases checked by Vaishampayan and his colleagues failed to turn up the new bacteria anywhere but these two clean rooms.

"We find a lot of bugs in clean rooms because we are looking so hard to find them there," said Vaishampayan. "The same bug might be in the soil outside the clean room but we wouldn't necessarily identify it there because it would be hidden by the overwhelming numbers of other bugs."

(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)