NASA | Rare New Microbe Found

Have you received your flu shot yet? NASA reported the discovery of a previously unknown bacteria. It was found in the clean rooms of the Kennedy Space Center and a European Space Agency facility in Kourou, French Guiana. The clean rooms are where spacecraft are assembled just prior to launch. Scientists do not want to transport microbes to other places when spacecraft travel. They go to extensive efforts to sterilize these clean rooms of all microbes. Scientists survey the rooms and keep a database of known residents.

Bacterial cell is about one millionth of a meter (1 µm) across. NASA/JPL-Caltech

This population of berry-shaped bacteria is so different from any other known bacteria, it has been classified as not only a new species, but also a new genus, the next level of classifying the diversity of life. Its discoverers named it Tersicoccus phoenicis. Tersi is from Latin for clean, like the room. Coccus, from Greek for berry, describes the bacterium’s shape. The phoenicis part is for NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, the spacecraft being prepared for launch in 2007 when the bacterium was first collected by test-swabbing the floor in the Florida clean room.

A microbiologist collects a swab sample from the floor of a spacecraft assembly clean room. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The microbe is likely found in many environments around the world. It is also likely found in very harsh and nutrient poor places. Its ability to survive the most stark conditions of a clean room make it stand out as an important find. Nearly all other microbes were eliminated in these two locations. It is an example of the principle of survival of the fittest. What NASA scientists do not want is to transport this microbe to other space environs like Mars or Venus or the Moon where similar harsh conditions exist. It might do well there. It might already be doing well there, in my opinion.

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13 thoughts on “NASA | Rare New Microbe Found

    • I hope we find life out there, or evidence it once flourished. So far, the signs are meager to non-existent. I think the odds are in favor of some forms of primitive life.

      Some say there are many primitive life forms running things around here on Earth. Will it evolve into anything better? Let’s hope so. 🙂

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  1. I read about this last week and found it completely interesting, though I’m not sure if it’s survival of the fittest or rather survival of that which can adapt.

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    • Speaking of adaptation…I had to this morning. It was 14˚. I had to put on a warmer shirt and slippers. That inch of snow outside isn’t welcome either.

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    • It’s ok. It wasn’t something brought back from a mission. These bacteria are here already. They are just very hard to kill and can survive the most harsh and sterile conditions. You probably have them all around you and always will.

      The scientists don’t want to send any of them to Mars or other harsh places. They might survive. That would make it hard to know what the planet was like before we got there.

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  2. The tersi- is indeed from Latin, from the verb tergere-, which meant ‘to rub off, wipe off, wipe dry, wipe clean, cleanse.’ We recognize that verb in our borrowed word detergent. Let’s hope we don’t get any “detergent berries” in our bodies.

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    • That makes sense.

      I would bet we already have them in our gut. They might be the last to go when we decay to dust and provide no more nutrition to the microbes around us.

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