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New bacterial strains found on ISS may help grow plants in space

The Discovery of novel bacterial strains aboard the International Space Station (ISS) suggests the possibility of astronauts growing their own vegetables while in space, says a new study by researchers based at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL), among other institutions.

The new bacterial strains discovered from different locations aboard the ISS flights may help in creating the “fuel” to help plants withstand such stressful situations. The findings of the study were published in a recent issue of the journal Frontiers in Microbiology

The research teams were led by Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, C.C. Wang of WorldQuant Initiative for Quantitative Prediction, Professor Appa Rao Podile from the University of Hyderabad (UoH) with expertise on plant growth-promoting bacteria and plant microbiome, and Dr. Ramprasad, a CSIR-pool Scientist.

The bacterial strains belonging to the family Methylobacteriaceae were isolated from different locations aboard the ISS across two consecutive flights.

While one strain was identified as Methylorubrum rhodesianum, the other three were previously undiscovered and belonged to a novel species.

Genetic analyses revealed them to be closely related to Methylobacterium indicum.

The researchers named the novel species as Methylobacterium ajmalii, in honor of the renowned Indian biodiversity scientist, Dr. Ajmal Khan, former Professor at Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu.

The genome analysis of Methylobacterium ajmalii strains revealed the presence of genes that are involved in promoting plant growth.

Commenting on the discovery and based on the genomic data, the lead authors said that the strains might possess “biotechnologically useful genetic determinants that may help growing plants in extreme places where resources are minimal”.

However, further experimental validations are being done to prove that it could, indeed, be a potential game-changer for space farming.

The authors are looking forward to more exciting discoveries in collaboration with NASA’s JPL.

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