Bacteria are ubiquitous and some of them are real survival specialists – a property, which is particularly challenging for space missions. The spacecraft that are sent on their long journey into space should be as clean as possible and considerably reduced in microbial burden, since the risk of biological contamination of other planets is high. Such a contamination could affect the detection of extraterrestrial life or make it even impossible. For this reason, spacecraft are assembled in so-called "clean rooms" under the most stringent controls for bio-contamination.
Nevertheless, microorganisms exist that can deal with the prevailing extreme conditions such as dryness, lack of nutrients or presence of disinfectants. Space agencies have defined standards by which to measure the bioburden and diversity of microbial species in the clean rooms and on the spacecraft.
The DSMZ now offers, in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA), the first public collection of extremotolerant bacterial strains adapted to the harsh conditions within the clean rooms. This collection is an important resource for research institutes and industry to investigate adaptive mechanisms of bacteria (for instance, resistance to heat, UV radiation, ionizing radiation, desiccation, disinfectants). The journal Astrobiology reports about this culture collection in its current issue.