BIT & Jiangsu Break Ground: Space Microbiology Revolution

The comprehensive space microbiology initiative, led by BIT, features four space microbial detection chips and two high-throughput space microbial culture chips.

In a groundbreaking collaboration between the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) and Jiangsu Normal University, the latest research project onboard the Chinese space station promises to revolutionize the understanding of space microbiology.

Launched on January 17 aboard the Tianzhou-7 cargo spacecraft from the Wenchang Space Launch Center, this project, housed in the Mengtian experimental module, utilizes cutting-edge technology to explore the rapid and precise detection of space microorganisms and their metabolic corrosion mechanisms.

The comprehensive space microbiology initiative, led by BIT, features four space microbial detection chips and two high-throughput space microbial culture chips. These advanced tools, deployed with the assistance of Chinese astronauts, aim to unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying biofilm formation by space microorganisms.

Professor Zhang Ying and the research team from Jiangsu Normal University spearhead this crucial aspect of the project, with potential implications for microbial risk prevention and control within space stations and long-duration spacecraft.

The roots of this research endeavor can be traced back to the initial launch of experimental equipment with the Mengtian module on October 31, 2022. Subsequent milestones include the completion of chip payload in-orbit experiments aboard the Tianzhou-6 cargo spacecraft on May 10, 2023, and the return of the culture chip payload to the ground laboratory on the Shenzhou-16 manned spacecraft on October 31, 2023. These achievements have established a solid foundation for ongoing experimental continuity among BIT researchers.

Zhang Ying’s research group, supported by the Space Biology and Medical Engineering Team, boasts a rich history in space microbiology research. Their work spans the ecology and physiological metabolism of space microorganisms, focusing on microbial community evolution in various environments, including the total assembly test, launch site, and simulated experimental environments during the ground development of the Chinese space station.

One key aspect of their research involves the analysis of microbial diversity and succession patterns during the in-orbit flight of the space station. The insights gained from this analysis have not only contributed to a better understanding of microbial communities in space but have also led to the proposal of targeted microbial contamination prevention and control strategies.

In the pursuit of effective prevention and control measures, the research group has played a pivotal role in ensuring that the microbial environment inside the space station cabin meets specific requirements before launch. This meticulous groundwork has been crucial in constructing measures to safeguard the well-being of astronauts and the success of scientific experiments conducted in the unique environment of space.

Over the past five years, the dedication of Zhang Ying’s team has resulted in the publication of 14 academic papers in reputable journals and the acquisition of multiple national patents. These contributions underscore the significance of their work in advancing our understanding of space microbiology and reinforcing China’s position at the forefront of space research.

As the project continues to unfold, the collaboration between BIT and Jiangsu Normal University holds the promise of unlocking further mysteries surrounding space microorganisms, offering vital insights that may shape the future of space exploration and ensure the safety and success of extended space missions.