Center for Microbiome Research | Zentrum für Mikrobiomforschung

Projects

Exomars and Planetary Protection

Bioburden and Biodiversity Agency Level Verification Assays

Determining if life exists or ever existed beyond Earth is one of the most interesting scientific questions. Reports on numerous habitable planets have increased the speculations about potential extra-terrestrial life. However, these theoretically life-supporting planets are far beyond human’s reach – except Mars.

The ExoMars program aims to investigate the Martian environment and to establish if life ever existed on Mars. The program consists of two missions: ExoMars2016 launched on 14th of March 2016 and consisting of a Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and an Entry, Descent and landing demonstrator Module (EDM) called Schiaparelli, as well as ExoMars2020 with a launch date in year 2020, sending a rover with surface mobility, access to subsurface, and capability to sample and analyse the Martian surface.

However, to detect life in Mars the spacecraft and instruments should not be contaminated by terrestrial microorganisms which could harm the ongoing and future missions, as well as Mars environment itself. Consequently, spacecraft and hardware assembly, integration and test (AIT) activities are performed in cleanrooms where the number and diversity of microorganisms is limited and regularly monitored.

Within the frame of ExoMars program, we follow the level of microbiological contamination (bioburden and the associated biodiversity) in the cleanrooms throughout the AIT activities via cultivation and molecular techniques, including next generation sequencing, and catalogue the detected microorganisms.

Article 

Koskinen, K., Rettberg, P., Pukall, R. et al. Microbial biodiversity assessment of the European Space Agency’s ExoMars 2016 mission. Microbiome 5, 143 (2017).

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Team

Collaborations/ Partner: DLR, DSMZ

Project members in Team CME: Kaisa Koskinen, Lisa Wink

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