A new genus of bacteria has been discovered in some of the very places we worked to sterilize. Two clean rooms, one in South America, the other thousands of miles away in Florida, have both been found to be the only known home to the newly named Tersicoccus phoenicis.
While the new bacteria may seem amazingly hearty to have survived in rooms that are repeatedly disinfected, heated, and filtered, the fact that they’re not everywhere may indicate that they’re actually not so tough.
“I think these bugs are less competitive, and they just don’t do so well in normal conditions,” says Cornell University astrobiologist Alberto Fairén, who was not involved in the analysis of the new genus. “But when you systematically eliminate almost all competition in the clean rooms, then this genus starts to be prevalent.”
Since these particular clean rooms were used by the European Space Agency and NASA to prepare spacecraft, it’s important to know more about these bacteria and if they could survive an unintended trip to space. We don’t want our first interaction with another planet to be contaminating it with something that could potentially do harm to an ecosystem, or at the very least complicate a search for novel life in space. However, there’s also a chance that by surviving in a hostile environment like a clean room, these bacteria have already survived a trip through space, which is how they arrived here in the first place.
Source: New Bacterial Life-Form Discovered in NASA and ESA Spacecraft Clean Rooms by Clara Moskowitz, Scientific American