Jonathan Eisen's Lab

Extraterrestrials, or Space Pirates?

A landmark study has illuminated the presence of specific microbes on the ISS strongly suggesting that humans might be on board the spacecraft.  In a routine survey of one air filter and more than one (two) of the vacuum bags used to clean the station, the researchers arrived at unexpected results – the amount and type of microbes found on the ISS are in stark contrast to those found on the meticulously scrubbed and disinfected NASA clean rooms* back on Earth.  Furthermore, these microbes on the ISS seem to resemble those found in association with humans.

NASA Clean room, image from Wikimedia Commons

Experts say that if these microbes came from a human, it is entirely possible that they could live on another human.  A major worry is that the astronauts and cosmonauts expected to continue living and working now on the ISS might be living with bacteria, which have been known to cause disease in the past.  It is therefore now the topmost priority to figure out which pathogens are there and how on (from?) Earth they arrived.

Astronaut Karen Nyberg with fellow Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and Astronaut Luca Parmitano, image from Wikimedia Commons

Microbial forensic experts are being called in to analyze the unique “fingerprint” signatures of the microbes left behind, in the hope of identifying the suspects these potential pathogens came from.  Preliminary findings have urged officials to focus their search on anyone who has recently eaten space-grown lettuce.  Next steps to understanding what is influencing the microbes on the ISS include analyzing the effect of a human breathing, eating, washing hair, sneezing, farting, playing the guitar or performing any other act as might be expected of these hypothesized ISS inhabitants.  Due to the limited knowledge of the on-goings of the station, the public is being asked for any information they might know of regarding such activities.

*Designed to eliminate the spread and survival of microorganisms.