Caister Academic Press

CIMB Abstract

Curr. Issues Mol. Biol. (2020) 38: 33-52.

Are we There Yet? Understanding Interplanetary Microbial Hitchhikers using Molecular Methods

Alexander J. Probst and Parag Vaishampayan

Since the early time of space travel, planetary bodies undergoing chemical or biological evolution have been of particular interest for life detection missions. NASA's and ESA's Planetary Protection offices ensure responsible exploration of the solar system and aim at avoiding inadvertent contamination of celestial bodies with biomolecules or even living organisms. Life forms that have the potential to colonize foreign planetary bodies could be a threat to the integrity of science objectives of life detection missions. While standard requirements for assessing the cleanliness of spacecraft are still based on cultivation approaches, several molecular methods have been applied in the past to elucidate the full breadth of (micro)organisms that can be found on spacecraft and in cleanrooms, where the hardware is assembled. Here, we review molecular assays that have been applied in Planetary Protection research and list their significant advantages and disadvantages. By providing a comprehensive summary of the latest molecular methods yet to be applied in this research area, this article will not only aid in designing technological roadmaps for future Planetary Protection endeavors but also help other disciplines in environmental microbiology that deal with low biomass samples.

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