Are certain bacteria suitable for space travel?

During the SERTS mission to study UV radiation, two species of bacteria are also exposed to it

A rocket launches today for a short flight from White Sands Missile Range, bringing the Solar Extreme Ultraviolet Research Telescope and Spectrograph (SERTS) to an altitude of 300 kilometers. The main focus of the study is the radiation-forming uppermost atmosphere of the sun, the so-called solar corona. But this time we are also testing the "Space suitability" by microorganisms.

The SERTS mission also serves to calibrate instruments on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) probe. During the flight, a spectrometer will be used to study radiation in the extreme ultraviolet range (UV-C). Waves of this length, which are shielded by the Earth’s atmosphere, the ozone layer, emanate from the solar corona with temperatures between one and three million degrees Celsius. Since ultraviolet radiation cannot be detected from Earth, it can only be measured above the ozone layer. The light beams will be bundled and projected onto the spectrometer with a special telescope, which will also have two "Window" contains, in order to take pictures of the sun. Data is collected for just six minutes before the spacecraft is parachuted back to Earth for a total flight of only 15 minutes.

D. radiodurans

For about six minutes, the four colonies of bacteria, each containing 100 million microorganisms, will be exposed to vacuum and UV radiation, which is generally fatal to life. Among other things, the theory of whether microorganisms could have come to Earth from another planet with a meteorite is to be investigated with this experiment conducted by the Biotechnology Institute of the University of Maryland (UMBI). But this is of course rather the exotic variant, because more interesting and pragmatic is the question, what damage radiation causes to microorganisms and their DNA and whether they have the possibilities to protect themselves from it or even to restore their damaged DNA. Of particular interest are the enzymes, the biological catalysts used in many applications that help extremophiles survive in extreme conditions.

Heat-loving archaebacteria, which do not even have a name, go along on the journey. They were obtained from hot springs in Yellowstone Park, where they can live in temperatures of up to 100 degrees Celsius, at which "normal" proteins and DNA were destroyed in seconds. At UMBI’s Center of Marine Biotechnology, the bacteria were isolated and grown in culture. It turned out that they could withstand not only intense heat, but also radioactive gamma rays and vacuum conditions, which is why they were chosen for space flight. In addition to these cultures, there are also those of the bacterium Deinoccus radiodurans, which is also known by some people as the "radioduran" because of its extreme survivability "Conan" call. Deinoccocus is not only a candidate of numerous attempts to make it clean radioactive or otherwise contaminated places, but also a favorite of astrobiologists because it or. its spores could possibly actually endure a trip through space inside a meteorite or be used for terraforming (With a little help from my friends …).

"We are always looking for DNA repair systems in extreme bacteria, which heiben Archaea. They could be useful in biotechnological and medical research", explains Jocelyne Di Ruggiero, project manager at COMB. "And in this case we also want to know what damage UV-C can do to the DNA of these microorganisms." NASA’s Joseph Davila explains that the effects of direct exposure to the normally lethal UV rays have hardly been studied so far.

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