As spacecraft are sent to different planets, they take with them microscopic pieces of life from Earth. It is the task of the Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group to keep as much of this life off other planets as possible as well as document any life that may have been sent. During the construction of the Mars Pathfinder, samples were collected from various locations on the spacecraft to test for contamination. These samples were then isolated, grown, documented, preserved and their 16S rRNA genes were sequenced for identification. The 16S rRNA gene sequence is utilized because it is a highly conserved portion of the transcriptional machinery of bacteria but also has known variable regions allowing it to be and amplified and used for distinguishing different genera and species of microbial life. All of the bacterial strains analyzed from this study were members of the genus Bacillus. Seventeen strains were sequenced and identified at greater than 98% homology to known type strains. After identifying the bacterial contaminant types, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be able to better determine cleanliness protocols to maintain the international standard and protect Mars from Earth contamination on future missions.


Bacteriology | Environmental Microbiology and Microbial Ecology | Other Astrophysics and Astronomy


Wayne Schubert

Lab site

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Funding Acknowledgement

This material is based upon work supported by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0952013. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation or the National Science Foundation. This project has also been made possible with support of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. The STAR program is administered by the Cal Poly Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education (CESaME) on behalf of the California State University (CSU).



URL: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/star/240


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