Contrary to common belief, microbes and bacteria have now started to infiltrate in clean rooms as well. This was found when microbiome was discovered in the clean room where NASA’s spacecraft are assembled.
These clean rooms have a different community of bacteria known as microbiome that have the capacity to withstand any and all kinds of antibacterial or disinfection procedures. This community of bacteria that is dominated by the Acinetobacter bacteria is normally found in water and soil.
This is one type of bacteria that persist even after thorough cleaning.
As discovered by a team of scientists at the California State Polytechnic University at Pomona led by Rakesh Mogul, the survival tricks of Acinetobacter are to eat the cleaning products that are used to kill them. “You can clean the rooms out and sterilize them, but microbes are still there. To be a bit Jurassic Park about it: Life will find a way,” said Mogul.
“You can clean the rooms out and sterilize them, but microbes are still there. To be a bit Jurassic Park about it: Life will find a way.”
NASA has always been concerned about contaminating the other planets with the bacteria present on Earth. The study highlighted that the solvents used to clean the aircraft actually become the food on which bacteria survive.
In the study, a small batch of this Acinetobacter bacteria, that is specifically found on the spacecraft of NASA, were starved of all ordinary nutrients and then subjected to Kleenol 30, Isopropyl alcohol and Ethanol. As a result, they found that these bacteria could completely survive on not just Ethanol, but also on various mixtures of Ethanol and other solvents.
Although there is no solution yet to this problem of bacterial breeding in clean rooms and contamination in NASA’s spacecraft that are designed to go to other planets, it is an excellent first step to know the reason behind this problem.
In another instance, it was found that the clean rooms that are used to store samples of meteorites at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas had elements of terrestrial fungus. Spectroscopist Marx Fries, who is responsible for the curation of cosmic dust collection at the Johnson Space Center commented, “I’d characterize it as eye-opening. It drives home this point that fungi are an important part of microbial contamination.”
NASA has a strict policy for all the aircraft that come into contact with liquid water on Mars, and this policy has been successful until now. "Nothing we've sent to Mars would suggest a runaway growth," said John Rummel, senior scientist for astrobiology at NASA headquarters, Washington DC, of the clean rooms.
However, contamination is a big concern for Jupiter’s moon Europa as well, because it is known to have liquid water on its rock and lava, which is similar to Earth’s hydrothermal vent where various communities of bacteria thrive.
It is an essential first step to know that bacteria are surviving on NASA’s cleaning material. So, the next step would be to find a solution to kill these bacteria in order to ensure that NASA’s spacecraft don’t contaminate other planets.