Microorganisms like bacteria often are found attached to surfaces living in communities known as biofilms. Bacteria within biofilms are protected by a slimy matrix that they secrete. Skip brushing your teeth tomorrow morning and you may personally experience what a biofilm feels like.
One of NASA’s goals is to minimize the health risks associated with extended spaceflight, so it is critical that methods for preventing and treating spaceflight-induced illnesses be developed before astronauts embark upon long-duration space missions. It is important for NASA to learn how bacterial communities that play roles in human health and disease are affected by spaceflight.
In two NASA-funded studies – Micro-2 and Micro-2A – biofilms made by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa were cultured on Earth and aboard space shuttle Atlantis in 2010 and 2011 to determine the impact of microgravity on their behavior. P. aeruginosa is an opportunistic human pathogen that is commonly used for biofilm studies. The research team compared the biofilms grown aboard the International Space Station bound space shuttle with those grown on the ground. The study results show for the first time that spaceflight changes the behavior of bacterial communities.