"Colonies of bacteria grown aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis behaved in ways never before observed on Earth, according to a new NASA-funded study from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York. Recent findings provide important evidence of spaceflight's effect on the behavior of bacterial communities, and represent a key step toward understanding and mitigating the risk these bacteria may pose to astronauts during long-term space missions.
The research team, led by Rensselaer faculty member Cynthia Collins, sent the experiment into orbit aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis missions STS-132 on May 16, 2010 and STS-135 on July 8, 2011. Samples of the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa were cultured for three days in artificial urine. The space-grown communities of bacteria, called biofilms, formed a "column-and-canopy" structure not previously observed on Earth. Additionally, biofilms grown during spaceflight had a greater number of live cells, more biomass, and were thicker than control biofilms grown under normal gravity conditions."