The University of California Comparison of the Growth Rate and DNA Characterization of Microgravity Exposed Microbial Community Samples (MERCCURI) compares how various microbial communities grow on the ground and in microgravity.
NanoRacks-Comparison of the Growth Rate and DNA Characterization of Microgravity Exposed Microbial Community Samples (NanoRacks-Project MERCCURI) compares the growth rates of microbes collected from various public venues both in a lab at University of California, Davis (UC Davis), and onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The growth rates are measured using a spectroscopic plate reader that has been installed on the ISS by NanoRacks. This plate reader is a modified version of the same plate reader that is used at UC Davis to measure growth.
The microbes in this study are harmless (and potentially beneficial):
- It is essential to understand how microgravity affects the growth of microbes commonly found in our environment, because we bring our microbes with us everywhere we go, and they are an important component of a healthy environment.
- In addition to the microbial growth experiments, DNA sequencing is used to characterize the microbes found on several surfaces aboard the ISS. These surface samples are collected by crewmembers using sterile cotton swabs.
- Citizen scientists and students help collect microbial samples from the surfaces of their cell phones and shoes. Although the crewmembers don’t have cell phones and shoes, they collect samples from analogous surfaces onboard the ISS so that everyone can compare the cell phone and shoe microbes found at their event to those found onboard the ISS.
- It is anticipated that a significant level of citizen and student scientists engagement will occur, thus promoting greater awareness of microbial community science, the science experiments and operations onboard the ISS, and all partnering organizations affiliated with the experiment.
Citizen and student scientists collect data for the ground-based component of this experiment as a component of ongoing research in the microbiology of the built environment, as well as citizen scientist engagement projects, conducted at UC Davis.
The experiment is also part of an ongoing citizen science and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education programs facilitated and conducted by SciStarter.com, ScienceCheerleader.com, and their affiliated partners. Participation in the experiment by citizen and student scientists includes basic educational information on microbial communities, microbiology of the build environment research, and the ISS itself.
Many microbes grow differently in space, forming thick biofilms and reproducing faster. Examining how space flight affects microbe growth provides new insights into how gravity, fluid dynamics, and nutrient availability affect biofilm formation.
The investigation also collects microbe samples from the ISS, which undergo DNA sequencing and growth analysis once they return to Earth. Understanding microbial communities on the station, and how they grow differently in microgravity and on the ground, helps researchers develop antibiotic countermeasures to safeguard crew health in space.
Citizen scientists collect microbe samples to be flown in space, in coordination with education programs facilitated by SciStarter.com, ScienceCheerleader.com, and their partners. Participation in the experiment exposes members of the public to basic information on microbial communities and microbiology, as well as the space program.
Researchers also aim to convey that microbes are everywhere and can be beneficial as well as harmful to human health. The investigation paves the way for future advanced biology and pharmaceutical research in microgravity, as well as possible new treatments for diseases.
Read more at the University of California.