3 New Life Forms Discovered On The Space Station. NASA Yawns In Response.

Keith's 18 March update: It has been 24 48 72 96 hours and no mention of this discovery by NASA public affairs or its science mission news sites. I know that NASA HQ knows about this story. The logical place for a news item would be SMD's NASA Science News but they are only interested in planets and stars.

Keith's note: Three novel microorganisms i.e. bacterial strains never before isolated and identified - have been found on the ISS according to a paper published in Frontiers In Microbiology: "Methylobacterium ajmalii sp. nov., Isolated From the International Space Station".

I posted the press release on my Astrobiology.com website - but I used the originating press release title - which could be a little better, BTW since it only scratches the surface of what was discovered: "Bacterial Strains Discovered On The Space Station May Help Grow Plants On Mars".

Let me say this again: three new terrestrial life forms have been discovered - in space - on a space station - using advanced genomics. That is certainly "space biology" and it certainly has relevance to "astrobiology" given that these life forms were discovered growing inside a space station i.e in outer space where they seem to have found an ecological niche. They also have relevance to sensing humans to Mars since they are related to nitrogen fixing which will figure into how we might grow plants in a life support system on other worlds like Mars.

The press release by the journal mentions the funding source: "The research described in this manuscript was funded by a 2012 Space Biology NNH12ZTT001N Grant No. 19-12829-26 under Task Order NNN13D111T awarded to KV, and NASA's 2018 Space Biology (ROSBio) NNH18ZTT001N-FG App B: Flight and Ground Space Biology Research Grant No. 80NSSC19K1501 awarded to CCCW." So NASA Space Biology Program gets a nod - but no connection is made to where space biology fits in the grander scheme of things i.e. the NASA Science Mission Directorate which makes zero mention of this on their science news website.

NASA Astrobiology is not mentioned. The reason NASA will give is that the specific program with this name did not fund it - even though space biology and astrobiology are both within SMD (which is never mentioned). While Mars is mentioned, JPL will make no mention of it on its Mars page since the missions to Mars - even though they are searching for life and testing the potential of supporting terrestrial life there - did not fund this.

The ISS Program Office will not mention this either since SMD/Space Biology funded it - not them. Yet the ISS readily post pictures of the vegetables they grow in space and the research that they do relating to plant growth - if they fund it, that is.

But CASIS/ISSNL - who did not fund or mention this research - did tweet a link to a Scientific American article "NASA Will Map Every Living Thing on the International Space Station". So at least someone at CASIS/ISSNL is paying attention to the overall topic of sequencing in space.

And of course, even though there is some hefty genomics involved NASA Genelab won't mention it since they were not involved. But I am pretty sure that the NASA funded SPACELINE Current Awareness List due out this Friday will certainly make mention. Oh, by the way - NASA's Space Biology, Space Medicine, Astrobiology programs and the ISS program Office and CASIS make no mention of SPACELINE, a NASA-funded research service that puts out a weekly summary of related space life science research. Go figure: NASA has a funded group that finds all of these synergies - yet no one knows that it even exists.

Update: Spaceline did indeed make mention of this research in their 19 March 2021 edition - see item #3.

Think of all the life science and exploration synergies that this discovery could have - if only NASA had the organizational software to seek out such synergies and bring them to light. The public is constantly inquiring as to what NASA does and why it does them. NASA seems to think that they need to justify what they do to their "stakeholders" but they never really do it. Building bridges between the various programs within NASA and things outside the agency would seem to be a prudent thing to do, right? Guess again. There are obvious synergies outside of NASA: how the genomics and microbiology were done, links to agriculture, etc. But NASA would have to cooperate internally to catch all of this and assemble it into a coherent larger picture. Again, NASA doesn't do that.

So .. articles with accurate headlines of "Microbes Unknown to Science Discovered on The International Space Station" will have no mention by any NASA websites. Cool NASA research will be a NASA PR orphan and the media will arrive at their own conclusions without any help from NASA.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on March 17, 2021 10:10 AM.

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