Three Previously Unknown Forms Of Bacteria Discovered On The International Space Station

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 17 Mar 2021 09:42
Three Previously Unknown Forms Of Bacteria Discovered On The International Space StationNASA/Flickr/NIAID

Three formerly unknown forms of bacteria have been discovered on the International Space Station (ISS), and it turns out they might prove quite useful.

An additional type of bacteria was discovered on the space station as well, but this was a form scientists were already aware of.


According to the study published on Monday, March 15, in the Frontiers of Microbiology journal, all four strains belong to the family of Methylobacteriaceae. These four strains were then isolated from different locations on the ISS across two consecutive flights, the study further explains.


The study continued:

Of these, three were identified as Gram-negative, rod-shaped, catalase-positive, oxidase-positive, motile bacteria, designated as IF7SW-B2T, IIF1SW-B5, and IIF4SW-B5, whereas the fourth was identified as Methylorubrum rhodesianum.


Several studies have taken place at the ISS over the years because of its unique environment, due to it having been isolated from Earth for so long.

OK, so science jargon aside, in what way do these bacterias come in handy? Senior Research Scientist Kasthuri Venkateswaran and Planetary Protection Engineer Nitin Kumar Singh believe the newly discovered bacteria could help with the growth of plants in space, CNN reported.

Leafy greens and radishes have already been grown on the space station, something that isn’t thought to have been achieved easily, but it’s now hoped that Methylobacterium could make it all easier.


Describing the bacteria as ‘biotechnologically useful genetic determinants’, the scientists said in a statement, ‘To grow plants in extreme places where resources are minimal, isolation of novel microbes that help to promote plant growth under stressful conditions is essential.’

The researchers also stressed that only time and experiments will tell if their theories work to not.

The study explained, ‘Since these three ISS strains were isolated at different time periods and from various locations, their persistence in the ISS environment and ecological significance in the closed systems warrant further study.’

Venkateswaran and Singh have since been tasked with studying the microorganisms, they told CNN, and will therefore assess the ISS ‘for the presence and persistence of the microorganisms’.


They added that the safety of the astronauts is their top priority. The researchers said, ‘Needless to say, the ISS is a cleanly-maintained extreme environment. Crew safety is the number 1 priority and hence understanding human/plant pathogens are important, but beneficial microbes like this novel Methylobacterium ajmalii are also needed.’

As long as they don’t have to grow potatoes like Matt Damon does in The Martian, I’m sure the astronauts will be happy.

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: News, Bacteria, Discovery, International Space Station, ISS, Now, plants, Science, Space


  1. CNN

    Previously unknown bacteria discovered on the space station could help grow plants