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posted by hubie on Saturday September 16 2023, @06:57AM   Printer-friendly
from the fungus-among-us dept.

Arthur T Knackerbracket has processed the following story:

Clogs in water recovery systems on the international space station have been so backed up that hoses have had to be sent back to Earth for cleaning and refurbishing. This is thanks to the build up of biofilms: a consortium of microorganisms that stick to each other, and often also to surfaces — the insides of water recover tubing, for instance. These microbial or fungal growths can clog filters in water processing systems and make astronauts sick.

[...] In a cross collaboration between researchers at the University of Colorado, MIT and the NASA Ames Research Center, researchers studied samples from the space station using a specific and well-understood gram-negative kind of bacteria. The scientists also joined forces with experts at LiquiGlide, a company run by MIT researcher Kripa Varanasi that specializes in “eliminating the friction between solids and liquids.” The multidisciplinary study found covering surfaces with a thin layer of nucleic acids prevented bacterial growth on the ISS-exposed samples.

The scientists concluded that these acids carried a slight negative electric charge that stopped microbes from sticking to surfaces. It's worth noting though, that the bacteria were up against a unique physical barrier as well as a chemical one: testing surfaces were etched into "nanograss." These silicon spikes, which resembled a tiny forest, were then slicked with a silicon oil, creating a slippery surface which biofilms struggled to adhere to.

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Immerman on Saturday September 16 2023, @01:43PM (3 children)

    by Immerman (3985) on Saturday September 16 2023, @01:43PM (#1324935)

    So it's great that they've possibly found a solution to biofilm cloging the water supply - what what is the effect on the astronauts of consuming the chemically treated "nanograss", which will inevitably break off over time and end up in the water.

    I would assume the stuff probably has nasty side effects - we've found again and again that nano-structured non-toxic materials like carbon can become extremely toxic thanks to their mechanical properties at sub-cellular scales. E.g. carbon nanotubes are "just" little loops of graphite, but while graphite is harmless, nanotubes accumulate in cells until they rupture, releasing the undamaged nanotubes to attack additional cells.

    Asbestos has somewhat related effects as well - microscopic mineral fibers just don't seem to play well with living tissues.

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  • (Score: 3, Touché) by captain normal on Saturday September 16 2023, @05:07PM (2 children)

    by captain normal (2205) on Saturday September 16 2023, @05:07PM (#1324957)

    Quick now, show of hands, who wants to go into space?
    Of course it also seems like a good idea to send the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos into space as soon as possible

    "If men were angels, government would not be necessary." James Madison