A new radiation-resistant bacteria found on the filters of the International Space Station (ISS) has been named ‘Solibacillus kalamii’ to honour the late Indian President, Dr Abdul Kalam.
Dr Kalam was a renowned missile and space scientist and took his initial lessons in rocket technology at NASA in 1963 before India’s first rocket-launching facility was set up in Thumba in Kerala.
“The name of the bacterium is Solibacillus kalamii, the species name is after Dr. Abdul Kalam and genus name is Solibacillus which is a spore-forming bacteria,” said Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran, scientist, Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group at NASA’s JPL.
The filter on which the new bacteria was in the ISS for 40 months and was later brought to the Earth for analysis at JPL. Dr. Venkateswaran, who discovered it as a new space-bound species, published his discovery in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.
However, Solibacillus kalamii was never found on earth till date but it doesn’t mean that it is an extra-terrestrial life form or ET, he quickly clarified. “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 explained.
“Being a fellow Tamilian, I am aware of the huge contributions by Dr. Kalam,” he said, on naming the bacterium after Dr. Kalam. Usually new bacteria is named after scientists.
“These spore formers tend to withstand high radiation and also produce some useful compounds protein-wise which will be helpful for biotechnology applications,” Dr. Venkateswaran told PTI.
Dr. Venkateswaran is the Senior Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and supports Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group. With over 39 years of research encompassing marine, food, and environmental microbiology, he is currently leading ISS “Microbial Observatory” projects to measure microorganisms associated with U.S. nodes, as well as Kibo Japanese Experiment Modules.
He has applied his research in molecular microbial analysis to better understand the ecological aspects of microbes, while conducting field studies in several extreme environments such as deep sea (2,500 m), spacecraft mission (Mars Odyssey, Genesis, Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Express), assembly facilities, and the space environment in Earth orbit of ISS,