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Sacramento microbes in space

Sacramento microbes are going into space: University of California, Davis researchers will be sending 48 microbes to the International Space Station on March 16, 2014. Microbes collected from Sacramento and throughout the nation will soon blast into orbit for research and a microgravity growth competition on the International Space Station (ISS).

Sacramento microbes in space: UC Davis researchers to send 48 microbes to International Space Station.
Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images

This citizen science project, known as Project MERCCURI, is led by University of California - Davis microbiologists, who are investigating how microbes from different places on Earth compare to each other and to those found on the International Space Station. David Coil, a microbiologist at the University of California, Davis, gathered microbial samples from the Sacramento Kings court.

You also can can view or download high-resolution photograph of David Coil gathering microbial samples from the Sacramento Kings court. Other images of microbes and public collecting events available at NASA footage of the March 16, 2014 launch will be available either by satellite or online here at the NASA website.

Six of the 48 samples were taken from locations in Sacramento, Davis and the Bay Area, including the 50-yard line of Candlestick Park, Oakland Raiders field, second base for the Giants at AT&T Park, Sacramento Kings sweat mop, Cal Aggie stadium and a residential toilet in Davis, California

Other samples came from the Liberty Bell and the Ben Franklin statue in Philadelphia, other sports stadiums and even a stairwell in New York City. (Photos and locations of the 48 samples are available at the Space site, UC Davis microbiologist David Coil and Wendy Brown, a UC Davis biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate who is also a professional cheerleader and co-creator of Project MERCCURI, are part of the team that gathered and prepared the 48 microbes for the launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The project is a collaboration of microBEnet/UC Davis with the Science Cheerleaders, an organization of more than 250 current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who are also scientists and engineers, Space Florida, Nanoracks, JPL-NASA and

During the past year or so, citizen and student scientists used kits to collect microbes from surface areas in buildings nationwide

From the thousands of samples they received and identified through DNA sequencing, 48 beneficial 'bugs' were selected for the March 16 launch. The UC Davis team also made baseball cards with images of the 48 microbes and their 'stats,' including where they were obtained and what their important functions in sustaining life are.

"One of our goals is to understand what microbes are living on the International Space Station and how this compares to other 'built environments' like offices, homes and cars," Coil says, according to the March 12, 2014 news release, Microbes in space. "We also want to see how the lack of gravity affects microbes of all kinds. But more importantly, we hope to let people know that not all microbes are bad. The majority are beneficial or harmless, and we need them."

The bacteria found on the Sacramento Kings sweat mop is going into space to clean up toxic waste

For example, Coil says, according to the news release, that the bacteria found on the Sacramento Kings sweat mop, Micrococcus luteus, is used in bioremediation to clean up pollution or toxic waste. The bacteria found on the Raiders practice field by Wendy, Bacillus aryabhatti, is important in plant growth and has been proposed for use in re-vegetation projects.

Wendy Brown, co-creator of Project MERCCURI, went to a public outreach event to gather microbial samples. Brown is a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering at UC Davis and a member of Science Cheerleaders, according to the news release.

The bacteria that's good for plant growth which was found on the Raiders practice field, Bacillus aryabhatti, may be used for re-vegetation projects in space

The growth of the microbes in microgravity will be monitored and compared to their counterparts grown in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at UC Davis and Argonne National Laboratory. The labs also will study microbial samples that the astronauts take from space station surfaces, including computer keyboards, foot rests and bench surfaces. Project MERCCURI also will conduct a growth competition to see which microbes grow the best in space.

"We want to engage citizen and student sciences in this research and science in general," Brown adds, according to the news release. "We're using the microbial playoff and involvement of cheerleaders and professional sports teams as a fun way to keep people interested and involved." All details about the project, including photos, copies of the baseball cards and real-time results of the study will be posted online at the website, The site also will ultimately include free interactive visualization tools and lesson plans for teachers.

Other members of the Project MERCCURI team include microbiology team leader Jonathan Eisen, professor of medical microbiology and immunology at UC Davis; Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter, an online citizen science community, and Science Cheerleader; Jenna Morgan Lang, a project scientist in the Eisen lab; Russell Neches, microbiology graduate student in the Eisen lab; Mark Severance, NASA Human Space Flight Network Director at the Goddard Space Flight Center; Summer Wagner, aerospace engineer at the Johnson Space Center; Debbie Biggs, owner and president of Education Pathways; Holly Bik, a computation biologist in the Eisen lab.

UC Davis Health System is improving lives and transforming health care by providing excellent patient care, conducting groundbreaking research, fostering innovative, interprofessional education, and creating dynamic, productive partnerships with the community. The academic health system includes one of the country's best medical schools, a 619-bed acute-care teaching hospital, a 1000-member physician's practice group and the new Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

It's home to a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, an international neurodevelopmental institute, a stem cell institute and a comprehensive children's hospital. Other nationally prominent centers focus on advancing telemedicine, improving vascular care, eliminating health disparities and translating research findings into new treatments for patients. Together, they make UC Davis a hub of innovation that is transforming health for all. For more information, visit the UC Davis Health System website.

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