Characterization of Aspergillus fumigatus Isolates from Air and Surfaces of the International Space Station


Knox BP, Blachowicz A, Palmer JM, Romsdahl J, Huttenlocher A, Wang CC, Keller NP, Venkateswaran K.
mSphere. 2016 Oct 26;1(5). pii: e00227-16.


One mission of the Microbial Observatory Experiments on the International Space Station (ISS) is to examine the traits and diversity of fungal isolates to gain a better understanding of how fungi may adapt to microgravity environments and how this may affect interactions with humans in a closed habitat. Here, we report an initial characterization of two isolates, ISSFT-021 and IF1SW-F4, of Aspergillus fumigatuscollected from the ISS and a comparison to the experimentally established clinical isolates Af293 and CEA10. Whole-genome sequencing of ISSFT-021 and IF1SW-F4 showed 54,960 and 52,129 single nucleotide polymorphisms, respectively, compared to Af293, which is consistent with observed genetic heterogeneity among sequenced A. fumigatus isolates from diverse clinical and environmental sources. Assessment of in vitro growth characteristics, secondary metabolite production, and susceptibility to chemical stresses revealed no outstanding differences between ISS and clinical strains that would suggest special adaptation to life aboard the ISS. Virulence assessment in a neutrophil-deficient larval zebrafish model of invasive aspergillosis revealed that both ISSFT-021 and IF1SW-F4 were significantly more lethal than Af293 and CEA10. Taken together, these genomic, in vitro, and in vivo analyses of two A. fumigatus strains isolated from the ISS provide a benchmark for future investigations of these strains and for continuing research on specific microbial isolates from manned spaceenvironments. IMPORTANCE As durations of manned space missions increase, it is imperative to understand the long-term consequence of microbial exposure on human health in a closed human habitat. To date, studies aimed at bacterial and fungal contamination of spacevessels have highlighted species compositions biased toward hardy, persistent organisms capable of withstanding harsh conditions. In the current study, we assessed traits of two independent Aspergillus fumigatus strains isolated from the International Space Station. Ubiquitously found in terrestrial soil and atmospheric environments, A. fumigatus is a significant opportunistic fungal threat to human health, particularly among the immunocompromised. Using two well-known clinical isolates of A. fumigatus as comparators, we found that both ISS isolates exhibited normal in vitro growth and chemical stress tolerance yet caused higher lethality in a vertebrate model of invasive disease. These findings substantiate the need for additional studies of physical traits and biological activities of microbes adapted to microgravity and other extreme extraterrestrial conditions.