Myron T. La Duc, Parag Vaishampayan, Henrik R. Nilsson, Tamas Torok and Kasthuri Venkateswaran
Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.
Spacecraft hardware and assembly cleanroom surfaces (233 m2 in total) were sampled, total genomic DNA was extracted, hypervariable regions of the 16S rRNA gene (bacteria and archaea) and ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region (fungi) were subjected to 454 tag-encoded pyrosequencing PCR amplification, and 203,852 resulting high-quality sequences were analyzed. Bioinformatic analyses revealed correlations between operational taxonomic unit (OTU) abundance and certain sample characteristics, such as source (cleanroom floor, ground support equipment [GSE], or spacecraft hardware), cleaning regimen applied, and location about the facility or spacecraft. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) cleanroom floor and GSE surfaces gave rise to a larger number of diverse bacterial communities (619 OTU; 20 m2) than colocated spacecraft hardware (187 OTU; 162 m2). In contrast to the results of bacterial pyrosequencing, where at least some sequences were generated from each of the 31 sample sets examined, only 13 and 18 of these sample sets gave rise to archaeal and fungal sequences, respectively. As was the case for bacteria, the abundance of fungal OTU in the GSE surface samples dramatically diminished (9× less) once cleaning protocols had been applied. The presence of OTU representative of actinobacteria, deinococci, acidobacteria, firmicutes, and proteobacteria on spacecraft surfaces suggests that certain bacterial lineages persist even following rigorous quality control and cleaning practices. The majority of bacterial OTU observed as being recurrent belonged to actinobacteria and alphaproteobacteria, supporting the hypothesis that the measures of cleanliness exerted in spacecraft assembly cleanrooms (SAC) inadvertently select for the organisms which are the most fit to survive long journeys in space.