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Genetic Evidence for Selective Transfer of Microbes Between the International Space Station and an Astronaut

By David C Danko, Nitin K Singh, Daniel J Butler, Christopher Mozsary, Peng Jiang, Ali Keshavarzian, Mark Maienschein-Cline, George Chlipala, Ebrahim Afshinnekoo, Daniela Bezdan, Fran Garrett-Bakelman, Stefan J Green, Fred W Turek, Martha Hotz Vitaterna, Kasthuri Venkateswaran, Christopher Mason

Posted 10 Nov 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.11.10.376954

Microbial transfer of both pathogenic and non-pathogenic strains from the environment can influence a person's health, but such studies are rare and the phenomenon is difficult to study. Here, we use the unique, isolated environment of the International Space Station (ISS) to track environmental movement of microbes in an astronaut's body. We identified several microbial taxa, including Serratia proteamaculans and Rickettsia australis, which appear to have been transferred from the environment of to the gut and oral microbiomes of the on-board astronaut, and also observed an exchange of genetic elements between the microbial species. Strains were matched at the SNP and haplotype-level, and notably some strains persisted even after the astronaut's return to Earth. Finally, some transferred taxa correspond to secondary strains in the ISS environment, suggesting that this process may be mediated by evolutionary selection, and thus, continual microbial monitoring can be important to future spaceflight mission planning and habitat design. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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