Solibacillus kalamii: NASA names new microbe discovered on ISS after Abdul Kalam to pay tribute


on dated : May 21, 2017

Till date, the new organism which is a form of a bacteria has been found only on the International Space Station (ISS) and has not been found on Earth.

Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the foremost lab of NASA for work on inter-planetary travel, discovered the new bacteria on the filters of the International Space Station (ISS) and named it Solibacillus kalamii to honour the late president, who was a renowned aerospace scientist.


Kalam had his early training at NASA in 1963 before he set up India's first rocket-launching facility in the fishing village of Thumba in Kerala.

"The name of the bacterium is Solibacillus kalamii, the species name is after Dr Abdul Kalam and genus name is Solibacillus which is a spore forming bacteria," said Dr Kasthuri Venkateswaran, senior research scientist, Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group at JPL.

The filter on which the new bug was found remained on board the ISS for 40 months. Called a high-efficiency particulate arrestance filter or HEPA filter, this part is the routine housekeeping and cleaning system on board the International Space Station.

This filter was later analysed at JPL and only this year did Venkateswaran publish his discovery in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.



ISS IS HOME TO MANY TYPES OF BACTERIA AND FUNGI

According to Venkateswaran, even as it orbits the earth some 400 kilometres above, the ISS is home to many types of bacteria and fungi which co-inhabit the station with the astronauts who live and work on the station.

Venkateswaran said even though Solibacillus kalamii has never been found on earth till date, it is really not an extra-terrestrial life form or ET.

"I am reasonably sure it has hitch hiked to the space station on board some cargo and then survived the hostile conditions of space," explained Venkateswaran.



NEW BUG USEFUL?

But is the new bug of some use.

"These spore formers tend to withstand high radiation and also produce some useful compounds protein wise which will be helpful for biotechnology applications," Venkateswaran said.

His team has not characterised the bacteria fully but he hints that the new bug could be a key source for chemicals that can help protect against radiation damage.

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