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The Sciences

Astronauts Tracking Growth of Microbes from Philadelphia on the International Space Station This Week

Citizen Science Salon iconCitizen Science SalonBy Darlene CavalierDecember 11, 2014 9:32 AM


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Project MERCCURI Progresses. 

Growth of Microbes is Documented for Analysis and Interpretation by UC Davis Scientists.


Now through December 12, on the International Space Station, astronaut Terry Virts is measuring the growth of microbes collected by citizen scientists from Philadelphia. This citizen science research, known as Project MERCCURI, investigates how microbes from different places on Earth compare to each other and to those found on the International Space Station. The microbes shot into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in April of this year. The microbes rested in a freezer at -80°C until the testing began earlier this week. UC Davis has received confirmation that the microbes are now growing in space, and the team in the Microbiology Lab will soon analyze the data on the individual microbes to see which won the “Microbial Playoffs.” Scientists are looking for winning microbes in three different categories:

  • Best Sprinter: the microbial competitor who can grow the fastest during the sprinting portion of growth (technically known as the “exponential growth phase”).

  • Best Huddle: the microbial competitor who can grow to the highest density… really packing those cells into the space allowed.

  • Best Tip Off: the microbial competitor who takes off growing like crazy from the start.

The Space Station will be crossing over Philadelphia this week at these times: Thursday December 11 at 6:16 p.m.; and Friday December 12 at 5:26 p.m. and 7:03 p.m. Thousands of citizen scientists have the opportunity to look up in the sky, see the Space Station whipping by at 17,000 MPH, and realize that their microbes are being examined there this week! Microbe collection for Project MERCCURI was led by the Science Cheerleaders (current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders pursuing science and technology careers). These microbes were found in Philadelphia:

The microbes (and others gathered from across the United States) were examined by the “microbiology team” in the laboratory of Dr. Jonathan Eisen at the University of California at Davis. The team selected 48 microbes, which, with approval from NASA, rode the SpaceX Falcon 9 to the Space Station for further research. Updates on the “microbial playoffs” growth competition are available via the web site and on Twitter at the hashtag #spacemicrobes. “People from Philadelphia collected microbes that are taking a ride on the International Space Station and are the subject of research by microbiologists and astronauts,” said Darlene Cavalier, Founder of Science Cheerleader and SciStarter. “We hope that inspires youngsters as well as adults to become more aware of and involved in science. They can also learn about and participate in other interesting citizen science projects by visiting SciStarter.” Project MERCCURI is coordinated by Science Cheerleader, SciStarter, and UC Davis, in conjunction with the Argonne National Laboratory. The Project is made possible by Space Florida, NanoRacks, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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