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New Ones in Space

A new species of bacteria has been identified on the International Space Station, the Guardian reports.

As part of an ongoing analysis of microbes found on the ISS, researchers from India and the US sequenced the genomes of a handful of isolates found in different spots in the station. As they report in Frontiers in Microbiology, their subsequent phylogenetic analysis indicated that one isolate belonged to Methylorubrum rhodesianum and that three others belonged to a previously unknown species. That new species, they report, is most closely related to M. indicum, which the Guardian notes is sometimes found on rice and likely hitched a ride to the ISS from Earth. The researchers propose the new species be dubbed Methylobacterium ajmalii sp. nov.

Many Methylobacterium species are involved in nitrogen fixation, plant growth promotion, and protection against plant pathogens. In their paper, the researchers led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Kasthuri Venkateswaran write that further analysis of these bacteria's genome sequences inform efforts to grow crops in space — a must for long-haul spaceflights.

"To grow plants in extreme places where resources are minimal, isolation of novel microbes that help to promote plant growth under stressful conditions is essential," Venkateswaran and co-author Nitin Kumar Singh, also from JPL, say in a statement.

Tags: Sequencing, applied, North America, Asia, JPL, phylogenetics


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