Beer bacteria survives in space

PUBLISHED: 14:12 25 August 2010

International Space Station. Image: NASA

International Space Station. Image: NASA

Archant

BEER is out of this world – or at least bits of it are.

Bacteria from cliffs at the village has survived 553 days outside the International Space Station.

It was sent up on small chunks of cliff rock in 2008, to see how it would survive the hostile conditions beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

Eighteen months later, many of the microbes are still alive and are now at an Open University laboratory in Milton Keynes. Scientists are investigating how they survived their space experience, which would have involved exposure to extreme ultraviolet light, cosmic rays and temperature shifts.

This is the longest any cells of cyanobacteria (photsynthesising microbes) have survived in space. It is thought their thick cells walls might have helped them.

They could help astronauts exploring the Solar System beyond low-Earth orbit.

OU researcher Dr Karen Olsson-Francis said: “Bacteria could be useful in life-support systems to recycle everything.

“There is also the concept that if we were to develop bases on the Moon or Mar, we could use bacteria for ‘bio-mining’, using them to extract important minerals from rocks.”

And their hardiness also supports the theory that micro-organisms can be transported between planets, to create life where there is none.

The microbes were placed on the European Space Agency’s Technology Exposure Facility at the end of the space station’s Columbus Laboratory. Nobody knew which of the many kinds found on the rock would come back alive; the exposure to space conditions sorted the weak from the strong.

Kevin Percival, who runs Butler’s Boats on Beer beach, was pleasantly surprised by the news. “It’s a small world, that tiny bits of rock from here can help international science,” he said. “It is good news for the village, as it puts it in the public eye for a positive reason.”

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