Research team studies kombucha cultures in simulated alien conditions

An international research team including the University of Göttingen studied the chances of kombucha cultures surviving under Mars-like conditions. Kombucha is known as a beverage, sometimes called mushroom tea or mushroom tea, which is produced by fermenting sweetened tea using kombucha cultures – a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Although the simulated Martian environment destroyed the microbial ecology of kombucha cultures, surprisingly, a cellulose-producing bacterial species survived. The results were published in Frontiers in microbiology.

Scientists from the Biology and Mars Experiment (BIOMEX) project previously sent kombucha cultures to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014 with support from the European Space Agency. The goal was to learn more about the robustness of cellulose as a biomarker, the genomic architecture of kombucha, and its survival behavior in extraterrestrial conditions. After a year and a half in simulated Martian conditions outside the ISS, the samples were reactivated on Earth and cultured for another two and a half years.

The head of the Institute of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Göttingen, Prof. Bertram Brenig, was responsible for the sequencing and bioinformatics analysis of the metagenomes of reactivated cultures and individual kombucha cultures in a team with researchers from the University of Minas Gerais in Brazil. “Based on our metagenomic analysis, we found that the simulated Martian environment significantly disrupted the microbial ecology of kombucha cultures. However, we were surprised to find that cellulose-producing bacteria of the genus Komagataeibacter survived.” The results suggest that the cellulose produced by the bacteria is likely responsible for their survival in extraterrestrial conditions. It also provides the first evidence that bacterial cellulose could be a biomarker of extraterrestrial life and that cellulose-based membranes or films could be a good biomaterial to protect life and produce consumer goods in extraterrestrial colonies.

Another interesting aspect of these experiments could be the development of new drug delivery systems, for example for the development of drugs that can be used in space. Another focus was on researching changes in antibiotic resistance: the research team was able to show that the total number of antibiotic and metal resistance genes – meaning that these microorganisms could survive despite antibiotics or metals in the environment – were enriched in exposed cells. cultures. “This result shows that the difficulties associated with antibiotic resistance in space medicine should receive special attention in the future,” the scientists said.

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