Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5959bf8d4d-2zkqf Total loading time: 0.372 Render date: 2022-12-09T22:40:25.378Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

The affect of the space environment on the survival of Halorubrum chaoviator and Synechococcus (Nägeli): data from the Space Experiment OSMO on EXPOSE-R

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2014

R. L. Mancinelli*
Bay Area Environmental Research Institute, MS 239-4 NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94043, USA


We have shown using ESA's Biopan facility flown in Earth orbit that when exposed to the space environment for 2 weeks the survival rate of Synechococcus (Nägeli), a halophilic cyanobacterium isolated from the evaporitic gypsum–halite crusts that form along the marine intertidal, and Halorubrum chaoviator a member of the Halobacteriaceae isolated from an evaporitic NaCl crystal obtained from a salt evaporation pond, were higher than all other test organisms except Bacillus spores. These results led to the EXPOSE-R mission to extend and refine these experiments as part of the experimental package for the external platform space exposure facility on the ISS. The experiment was flown in February 2009 and the organisms were exposed to low-Earth orbit for nearly 2 years. Samples were either exposed to solar ultraviolet (UV)-radiation (λ > 110 nm or λ > 200 nm, cosmic radiation (dosage range 225–320 mGy), or kept in darkness shielded from solar UV-radiation. Half of each of the UV-radiation exposed samples and dark samples were exposed to space vacuum and half kept at 105 pascals in argon. Duplicate samples were kept in the laboratory to serve as unexposed controls. Ground simulation control experiments were also performed. After retrieval, organism viability was tested using Molecular Probes Live–Dead Bac-Lite stain and by their reproduction capability. Samples kept in the dark, but exposed to space vacuum had a 90 ± 5% survival rate compared to the ground controls. Samples exposed to full UV-radiation for over a year were bleached and although results from Molecular Probes Live–Dead stain suggested ~10% survival, the data indicate that no survival was detected using cell growth and division using the most probable number method. Those samples exposed to attenuated UV-radiation exhibited limited survival. Results from of this study are relevant to understanding adaptation and evolution of life, the future of life beyond earth, the potential for interplanetary transfer of viable microbes via meteorites and dust particles as well as spacecraft, and the physiology of halophiles.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Aguilar, A., Ingemansson, T. & Magnien, E. (1998). Extremophile microorganisms as cell factories: support from the European Union. Extremophiles 2, 367373.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Beckman, K.B. & Ames, B.N. (1998). The free radical theory of aging matures. Physiol. Rev. 78, 547581.Google ScholarPubMed
Brawn, K. & Fridovich, I. (1981). DNA strand scission by enzymatically generated oxygen radicals. Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 206, 414419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clark, B.C. (1978). Implications of abundant hygroscopic minerals in the martian regolith. Icarus 34, 645665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clark, B.C. & Van Hart, D.C. (1981). The salts of Mars. Icarus 45, 370387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clegg, J.S. (1986). The physical properties and metabolic status of Artemia cysts at low water contents: the “water replacement hypothesis. In Membranes, Metabolism and Dry Organisms, 1st edn, ed. Leopold, A.C., pp. 169187. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.Google Scholar
COSPAR (2011). Planetary Protection Policy, October 2002, as amended 24 March 2011: Scholar
Crowe, J.H., Hoekstra, F.A. & Crowe, L.M. (1992). Anhydrobiosis. Annu. Rev. Physiol. 54, 579599.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Csonka, L.N. & Hanson, A.D. (1991). Prokaryotic osmoregulation: genetics and physiology. Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 45, 569606.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
de la Torre, R. et al. (2010). Survival of lichens and bacteria exposed to outer space conditions – Results of the Lithopanspermia experiments. Icarus 208, 735748.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dose, K. & Gill, M. (1995). DNA stability and survival of Bacillus subtilis spores in extreme dryness. Orig. Life Evol Biosp. 25(1–3), 277293.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Dose, K., Bieger-Dose, A., Kerz, O. & Gill, M. (1991). DNA strand breaks limit survival in extreme dryness. Origins of life 21, 177187.Google ScholarPubMed
Dose, K., Bieger-Dose, A., Labusch, M. & Gill, M. (1992). Survival in extreme dryness and DNA-single strand B reaks. Adv. Space Res. 12(4), 221229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dose, K., Bieger-Dose, A., Dillman, R., Gill, M., Kerz, O., Klein, A., Meinert, H., Nawroth, T., Risi, S. & Stridde, C. (1995). ERA-experiment: space biochemistry. Adv. Space Res. 16(8), 119129.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Edwards, K.J., Bond, P.L., Gihring, T.M. & Banfield, J.F. (2000). An archaeal iron-oxidizing extreme acidophile important in acid mine drainage. Science 287, 17961799.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Forsythe, R.D. & Zimbelman, J.R. (1995). A case for ancient evaporite basins on Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 100, 55535563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Friedberg, E.C., Walker, G.C. & Wolfram, S. (1995). DNA Repair and Mutagenesis. ASM Press, Washington, DC, pp. 698.Google ScholarPubMed
Horneck, G. (1993). Responses of Bacillus subtilis spores to space environment: results from experiments in space. Orig. Life Evol. Bios. 23, 3752.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Horneck, G. (2003). Could life travel across interplanetary space? Panspermia revisited. In Evolution on Planet Earth: The Impact of the Physical Environment, ed. Rothschild, L. & Lister, A., pp. 109127. Academic Press, London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Horneck, G. & Brack, A. (1992). Study of the origin, evolution and distribution of life with emphasis on exobiology experiments in Earth orbit. In Advances in Space Biology and Medicine, ed. Bonting, S., Vol. 2, pp. 229262. JAI Press, Greenwich, CT.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Horneck, G., Bücker, H. & Reitz, G. (1994). Long-term survival of bacterial spores in space. Adv. Space Res. 14, (10)41(10)45.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Horneck, G., Rettberg, P., Wehner, J., Eschweiler, U., Strauch, K., Panitz, C., Starke, V. & Baumstark-Kahn, C. (2001). Protection of bacterial spores in space, a contribution to the discussion on panspermia. Orig. Life Evol. Bios. 31, 527547.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Horneck, G., Klaus, D. & Mancinelli, R.L. (2010). Space microbiology. Microbiol. Mol. Biol. Rev. 74, 121156.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jönsson, K.L., Rabbow, E., Schill, R.O., Harms-Ringdahl, M. & Rettberg, P. (2008). Tardigrades survive exposure to space in low Earth orbit. Curr. Biol. 18, R729R731.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Koch, A.L. (1994) Growth measurement. In Methods for General and Molecular Bacteriology, ed. Gerhardt, P., pp. 248277. ASM Press, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
Larsen, H. (1967). Biochemical aspects of extreme halophilism. Adv. Microb. Physiol. 1, 97132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Le Rudulier, D. & Bouillard, L. (1983). Glycine Betaine, an osmotic effector in Klebsiella pneumonia and other members of the Enterobacteriaceae. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 46, 152159.Google Scholar
Lindberg, C. & Horneck, G. (1991). Action spectra for survival and spore photoproduct formation of Bacillus subtilis irradiated with short wavelength (200–300 nm) UV at atmospheric pressure and in vacuo. J. Photochem. Photobiol. B 11, 6980.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mancinelli, R.L. (2005a). Microbial life in brines, evaporites and saline sediments: the search for life on Mars. In Water on Mars and Life, ed. Tokano, T., pp. 277298. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.Google ScholarPubMed
Mancinelli, R.L. (2005b). Halophiles: a terrestrial analog for life in brines on Mars. In Adaptation to Life at High Salt Concentrations in Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya, ed. Gunde-Cimerman, N., Plemenitas, A. & Oren, A., pp. 137149. Volume 9 in the series on Cellular Origins, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology (COLE), edited by Joseph, Seckbach. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mancinelli, R.L., White, M.R. & Rothschild, L.J. (1998) Biopan-survival I: exposure of the osmophiles Synechococcus sp. (Nägeli) and Haloarcula sp. to the space environment. Adv. Space Res. 22(3), 327334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mancinelli, R.L., Fahlen, T.F., Landheim, R. & Klovstad, M.R. (2004). Brines and evaporites analogs for martian life. Adv. Space Res. 33, 12441246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mancinelli, R.L. et al. (2009). Halorubrum chaoviator sp. nov., a haloarchaeon isolated from sea salt in Baja California, Mexico, Western Australia and Naxos, Greece. Int. J. System. Evol. Microbiol. 59, 19081913.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Marshall, J.R. & Mancinelli, R.L. (2011). The effect of spacecraft descent engine plumes on organic contaminant transfer to planetary surfaces: phoenix as a test case. Int. J. Astrbiol. 10, 335340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mileikowsky, C., Cucinotta, F.A., Wilson, J.W., Gladman, B., Horneck, G., Lindegren, L., Melosh, J., Rickman, H., Valtonen, M. & Zheng, J.Q. (2000). Natural transfer of viable microbes in space. 1. From Mars to Earth and Earth to Mars. Icarus 145, 391427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nicholson, W.L., Munakata, N., Horneck, G., Melosh, H.J. & Setlow, P. (2000). Resistance of bacterial endospores to extreme terrestrial and extraterrestrial environments. Microbiol. Mol. Biol. Rev. 64, 548572.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Potts, M. (1994). Desiccation tolerance of prokaryotes. Microbiol. Rev. 58, 755805.Google ScholarPubMed
Rabbow, E. et al. (2009). EXPOSE, an astrobiological exposure facility on the International Space Station – from Proposal to Flight. Orig. Life Evol. Bios. 39, 581598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rabbow, E. et al. (2012). EXPOSE-E: an ESA astrobiology mission 1.5 years in space. Astrobiology 12(5), 374386.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rabbow, E. et al. (2014). The astrobiological mission EXPOSE-R on board of the international space station. Int. J. Astrobio. This issue.Google Scholar
Rothschild, L.J. (2003). The sun: the engine of life. In Evolution on Planet Earth: The Impact of the Physical Environment, ed. Rothschild, L. & Lister, A., pp. 87107. Academic Press, London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rothschild, L.J. & Mancinelli, R.L. (2001). Life in extreme environments. Nature (London) 409, 10921101.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rothschild, L.J., Giver, L.J., White, M.R. & Mancinelli, R.L. (1994). Metabolic activity of microorganisms in evaporites. J. Phycol. 30, 431438.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Schulte, W., Baglioni, P. & Demets, R. (2001). Exobiology research platforms. In First European Workshop Exo-/Astrobiology, Frascati, Italy, 21–23 May 2001, ed. Ehrenfreund, P., Angerer, O. & Battrick, B., pp. 183186. ESA, ESTEC, The Netherlands, ESA-SP-496.Google Scholar
Setlow, P. (1992). I will survive: protecting and repairing spore DNA. J. Bacteriol. 174, 27372741.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Siefermann-Harms, D. (1987). The light-harvesting and protective functions of carotenoids in photosynthetic membranes. Physiological Plantarum, 69, 561568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tepfer, D., Zalar, A. & Leach, S. (2012). Survival of plants seeds, their UV screen and nptIIDNA for 18 months outside the International Space Station. Astrobiology 12, 517528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vaniman, D.T., Bish, D.L., Chipra, S.J., Fialips, C.I., William, C.J. & Feldman, W.C. (2004). Magnesium sulphate salts and the history of water on Mars. Nature 431, 663665.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Wehner, J. & Horneck, G. (1995). Effects of vacuum UV and UVC radiation on dry E. coli plasmid pUC19 II. Mutational specificity at the lacZ gene. J. Photochem. Photobiol. B 30, 171177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yancey, P.H., Clark, M.E., Hand, S.C., Bowlus, R.D. & Somero, G.N. (1982). Living with water stress: evolution of osmolyte systems. Science 217, 12141216.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The affect of the space environment on the survival of Halorubrum chaoviator and Synechococcus (Nägeli): data from the Space Experiment OSMO on EXPOSE-R
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

The affect of the space environment on the survival of Halorubrum chaoviator and Synechococcus (Nägeli): data from the Space Experiment OSMO on EXPOSE-R
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

The affect of the space environment on the survival of Halorubrum chaoviator and Synechococcus (Nägeli): data from the Space Experiment OSMO on EXPOSE-R
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *