Multi-faceted metagenomic analysis of spacecraft associated surfaces reveal planetary protection relevant microbial composition

Sarah K. Highlander, Jason M. Wood, John D. Gillece, Megan Folkerts, Viacheslav Fofanov, Tara Furstenau, Nitin K. Singh, Lisa Guan, Arman Seuylemezian, James N. Benardini, David M. Engelthaler, Kasthuri Venkateswaran, Paul S. Keim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been monitoring the microbial burden of spacecraft since the 1970’s Viking missions. Originally culture-based and then focused 16S sequencing techniques were used, but we have now applied whole metagenomic sequencing to a variety of cleanroom samples at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), including the Spacecraft Assembly Facility (SAF) with the goals of taxonomic identification and for functional assignment. Our samples included facility pre-filters, cleanroom vacuum debris, and surface wipes. The taxonomic composition was carried out by three different analysis tools to contrast marker, k-mer, and true alignment approaches. Hierarchical clustering analysis of the data separated vacuum particles from other SAF DNA samples. Vacuum particle samples were the most diverse while DNA samples from the ISO (International Standards Organization) compliant facilities and the SAF were the least diverse; all three were dominated by Proteobacteria. Wipe samples had higher diversity and were predominated by Actinobacteria, including human commensals Cutibacterium acnes and Corynebacterium spp. Taxa identified by the three methods were not identical, supporting the use of multiple methods for metagenome characterization. Likewise, functional annotation was performed using multiple methods. Vacuum particles and SAF samples contained strong signals of the tricarboxylic acid cycle and of amino acid biosynthesis, suggesting that many of the identified microorganisms have the ability to grow in nutrient-limited environments. In total, 18 samples generated high quality metagenome assembled genomes (MAG), which were dominated by Moraxella osloensis or Malassezia restricta. One M. osloensis MAG was assembled into a single circular scaffold and gene annotated. This study includes a rigorous quantitative determination of microbial loads and a qualitative dissection of microbial composition. Assembly of multiple specimens led to greater confidence for the identification of particular species and their predicted functional roles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0282428
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3 March
StatePublished - Mar 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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