The astronauts are exchanging microbes with the International Space Station

Life is the most obstinate thing there is. It is as obstinate as it is perishable. We leave traces wherever we go. We just can’t help it. We spread the life we carry, even in lifeless and aseptic places such as the International Space Station.

Astronauts, microbes, and reciprocation

Scientists have recently discovered that the astronauts living on the ISS left their microbiome print on the ISS. Also, the ISS influenced the astronauts’ microbiome. This is an important discovery, that will help scientists develop better plans for future longer missions on the ISS.

It looks like living in space enhanced the astronauts’ gut microbiome. This came as a surprise for the scientists, as they presumed it would be the other way around. Since the ISS is as sterile as it can be, it is considered a bacteria-free environment that would affect those living in it. But it looks like bacteria is a natural born survivor.

“Since the station is a very clean environment, we were expecting reduced gut diversity in space compared to preflight or postflight because the astronauts are less exposed to environmental bacteria,” said Hernan Lorenzi, a microbiologist from the J. Craig Venter Institute.

The interesting thing is that the astronauts also left their marks on the ISS. In such a distinct manner, that “the station microbiome tended to resemble the composition of the skin microbiome of the astronauts that were living in space at that particular moment,” as Lorenzi said.

It seems that by analyzing the ISS microbiome, scientists can tell which astronaut was living there.

Microbes, diet, and magic

The explanation researchers found for this phenomenon was the astronauts’ diet. Astronauts on the ISS have access to 200 types of foods and beverages. Specialists took care that the astronauts are well provided up there, so they would remain strong and healthy.

If there was a need for any more proof as to the importance of diet, now we have it. Even in space, where the conditions are anything but natural, diet works its magic. Bacteria loves diet variety and so should we.

As for the skin microbiome, astronauts showed different reactions to living on the ISS. Some experienced a reduction of their skin microbiome, while others increase in it. But all of them had a decreased level of Proteobacteria bacteria. Since Proteobacteria lives in soil, that would be natural.

A change of perspective over bacteria and microbes

We might not see microbes and bacteria as what they truly are: the biggest chance life has to go on no matter what happens. When scientists investigate other planets for habitability, they look for them too. They represent a higher chance for that planet to have been populated or to become a future world where humans can live in.

Bacteria and microbes live inside us and on our skin. They populate us just like we populate Earth. They live in our gut, in our mouth, ears, and on our skin, and together they represent another organ that we depend on to survive. The microbiome.

Just like mankind, the microbiome is good and bad for the planet they live on. Some of it protects the body and help it grow, while a part of it abuse and parasitize the human body. The good side of the microbiome also fights to keep the bad side in place and not let it conquer and destroy the body.

Life is an explorer. It is programmed to work at both ends to survive and achieve complexity: it preserves and it changes.