Mitigation and use of biofilms in space for the benefit of human space exploration

Yo Ann Vélez Justiniano, Darla M. Goeres, Elizabeth L. Sandvik, Birthe Veno Kjellerup, Tatyana A. Sysoeva, Jacob S. Harris, Stephan Warnat, Matthew McGlennen, Christine M. Foreman, Jiseon Yang, Wenyan Li, Chelsi D. Cassilly, Katelynn Lott, Lauren E. HerrNeckar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Biofilms are self-organized communities of microorganisms that are encased in an extracellular polymeric matrix and often found attached to surfaces. Biofilms are widely present on Earth, often found in diverse and sometimes extreme environments. These microbial communities have been described as recalcitrant or protective when facing adversity and environmental exposures. On the International Space Station, biofilms were found in human-inhabited environments on a multitude of hardware surfaces. Moreover, studies have identified phenotypic and genetic changes in the microorganisms under microgravity conditions including changes in microbe surface colonization and pathogenicity traits. Lack of consistent research in microgravity-grown biofilms can lead to deficient understanding of altered microbial behavior in space. This could subsequently create problems in engineered systems or negatively impact human health on crewed spaceflights. It is especially relevant to long-term and remote space missions that will lack resupply and service. Conversely, biofilms are also known to benefit plant growth and are essential for human health (i.e., gut microbiome). Eventually, biofilms may be used to supply metabolic pathways that produce organic and inorganic components useful to sustaining life on celestial bodies beyond Earth. This article will explore what is currently known about biofilms in space and will identify gaps in the aerospace industry's knowledge that should be filled in order to mitigate or to leverage biofilms to the advantage of spaceflight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100102
StatePublished - Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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