A form of bacteria found only on the International Space Station has been named Solibacillus kalamii, after late Indian president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, by National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The discovery was made by a team of researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory – Nasa’s lab for inter-planetary travel research.
Dr Kasthuri Venkateswaran, a senior research scientist at JPL, said while the genus is named Solibacillus, which is a spore-forming bacterium, naming the species after Kalam came “naturally” to him and his team. “Being a fellow Tamilian, I am aware of the huge contributions by Dr Kalam,” he told PTI. Kalam, an aerospace scientist, had his training at Nasa in 1963 and went on to set up India’s first rocket-launching facility in a village in Kerala.
The bacterium was found on a high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filter that was on board ISS for 40 months, PTI reported. The HEPA filter is a part of the routine cleaning system on the ISS. One of Venkateswaran’s major responsibilities is to ensure the spacecraft that fly to other planets are totally sterile before leaving earth.
Venkateswaran says the Solibacillus kalamii has not been found on earth yet, but it is not an extraterrestrial lifeform. “I am reasonably sure it has hitch hiked to the space station on board some cargo and then survived the hostile conditions of space,” he said. Earlier this month, Venkateswaran published his discovery in the International Journal of systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.
While the bacterium has not been characterised completely yet, Venkateswaran hopes it will be helpful in biotechnology applications. It could also be a source for chemicals that can help against radiation damage, he added.