A team of NASA microbiologists has discovered a new bacterium in a very unlikely place; cleanrooms in Florida and South America. Cleanrooms are controlled environments that are designed to keep particulates and other materials out of the room, and NASA’s cleanrooms are known for being exceptionally clean. |
How could this bacterium survive in such a clean environment? This bacterium can survive with very little nutrients. It is possible that this bacterium could occur in nature in a desolate place like a cave. Since this is the first time this bacterium has been found, it is considered a new species and genus.
NASA uses cleanrooms for a variety of reasons. The electronics used in spacecraft are delicate and quite expensive. Keeping this environment clean ensures the electronics can be created and function properly.
The other need for the clean and controlled environments relates to the search for life outside of Earth. If life were to be found on another planet or in space, we would need to ensure that it didn’t first originate on Earth and can ride via a spacecraft.
Cleanroom operators adhere to strict cleanliness policies, as well as take many extra steps to ensure these environments remain clean. Cleanroom workers wear unique protective coverings that prevent the shedding of particulates to enter into the cleanroom environment. Cleanrooms are ranked in levels of cleanliness based on the type of work that is being conducted within the room, and specialized clothing is matched accordingly. Some cleanrooms may only require gloves or a facemask, whereas other rooms may require head-to-toe protective clothing often referred to as a “bunny suit.”
The fact that the microbes can live within this environment is very impressive. The microbe has been named Tersicoccus phonecisis, which is an amalgam of Greek and Latin words meaning “clean” and “berry.” This bacterium is currently being studied to learn more about how it can thrive in spartan conditions and how it can be prevented in cleanrooms.
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