2014 Volume 29 Issue 3 Pages 243-249
The National Research Council (NRC) has recently recognized the International Space Station (ISS) as uniquely suitable for furthering the study of microbial species in closed habitats. Answering the NRC’s call for the study, in particular, of uncommon microbial species in the ISS, and/or of those that have significantly increased or decreased in number, space microbiologists have begun capitalizing on the maturity, speed, and cost-effectiveness of molecular/genomic microbiological technologies to elucidate changes in microbial populations in the ISS and other closed habitats. Since investigators can only collect samples infrequently from the ISS itself due to logistical reasons, Earth analogs, such as spacecraft-assembly clean rooms, are used and extensively characterized for the presence of microbes. Microbiologists identify the predominant, problematic, and extremophilic microbial species in these closed habitats and use the ISS as a testbed to study their resistance to extreme extraterrestrial environmental conditions. Investigators monitor the microbes exposed to the real space conditions in order to track their genomic changes in response to the selective pressures present in outer space (external to the ISS) and the spaceflight (in the interior of the ISS). In this review, we discussed the presence of microbes in space research-related closed habitats and the resistance of some microbial species to the extreme environmental conditions of space.