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Researchers find a new bacterial species lurking in clean rooms used to assemble spacecraft at NASA and the European Space Agency.

By | November 11, 2013

The berry-shaped Tersicoccus pheonicis, the species of bacteria discovered in a NASA clean roomsNASA/JPL-CALTECHScientists have discovered an entirely new genus of bacteria residing in some of the harshest conditions on the planet: those that are designed to keep clean rooms used to build spacecraft free of microbes. The bacterium, dubbed Tersicoccus phoenicis, was found on the floor of a clean room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and in a clean room maintained by the European Space Agency in French Guiana, more than 4,000 kilometers (about 2,500 miles) away.

The clean rooms, which are used to assemble spacecraft such as the Phoenix Mars Lander, are kept dry, routinely bleached, and have negative air pressure—all efforts to discourage the incursion and growth of microbes. T. phoenicis survives with almost zero nutrients, Parag Vaishampayan, a microbiologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, told The Telegraph. “We want to have a better understanding of these bugs, because the capabilities that adapt them for surviving in clean rooms might also let them survive on a spacecraft.”

The microbe was first detected in one of NASA’s regular swabs of clean room facilities meant to monitor for such contaminants. Vaishampayan and colleagues published a description of the bacterium, which measures only one micrometer across, in the July issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

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Avatar of: Stevec

Stevec

Posts: 1

November 16, 2013

Are you sure the clean rooms are at negative pressure? My experience is that positive pressure in the rooms minimizes incursion of contaminants into clean rooms, whereas negative pressure will allow contaminants to enter the rooms from the outside. 

Avatar of: Beau_Hica

Beau_Hica

Posts: 1

December 11, 2013

Clean rooms are typically kept at negative pressure.  Negative pressure prevents cross contaminates from leaving the room.  When the building is built, they design the layout to be very specific and the majority of the rooms have negative pressure.  The further you go in (or the more connected negative pressure rooms you venture through), the cleaner the rooms will be.  The effect compounds, making it safer as you go through.  This is typically why clean rooms have a negative pressure portal before you enter.

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Mettler Toledo
BD Biosciences
BD Biosciences