Funding agency

NASA (80NSSC17K0036)

Launch date

Launched on November, 2019 (NG-12). Returned to Earth on January 2020 (SpaceX-19)

Space Biofilms Patch

Biofilm growth has been observed in Soviet/Russian (Salyuts and Mir), American (Skylab), and International (ISS) Space Stations, sometimes jeopardizing key equipment like spacesuits, water recycling units, radiators, and navigation windows. Biofilm formation also increases the risk of human illnesses and therefore needs to be well understood to enable safe, long-duration, human space missions. The Space Biofilms project aims to characterize biofilm inside the International Space Station in a controlled fashion, assessing changes in mass, thickness, and morphology. The space-based experiment also aims at elucidating the biomechanical and transcriptomic mechanisms involved in biofilm formation in space. To search for potential solutions, different materials and surface topologies will be used as the substrata for microbial growth.


What are this project's objectives?

This project aims to characterize biofilm mass, thickness, morphology, and the associated gene expression using various spaceflight-relevant microbial species (one bacterial and one fungal) and different substrata materials.  Additionally, this experiment has the aim of elucidating the biomechanical and transcriptomic mechanisms involved in biofilm formation in space. This project also aims to investigate the role of material surface topology on biofilm formation, as well as to test a novel lubricant-impregnated surface.


How is this being done?

BioServe hardware is used to house different 1cm2 coupons of varying materials, including SS316, passivated SS316, Al6061, Silicone, Cellulose Membrane, etc. Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Penicillium rubens are the bacterial and fungal model organisms being used, respectively. Fungal biofilms (mold) will be grown in 24-Well Plates. Bacterial biofilms will be grown in BioServe's Fluid Processing Appartus (FPA) contained in Group Activation Packs (GAP).


The Team

The Space Biofilms team is composed of scientists, engineers, and undergraduate and graduate students from two national space agencies (NASA, German Aerospace Center (DLR)), four universities (University of Colorado, Boulder, Saarland University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG)), and one research center (BioServe Space Technologies).



The students at the University of Colorado, Boulder (BioServe Space Technologies), German Aerospace Center (DLR), Saarland University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG) are the backbone of this project. 

SB Team

From left to right: Rylee Schauer (Fungal Lead) holding BioServe's PHAB, the hardware that will contain the fungal molds on ISS, Pamela Flores (Bacterial Lead) holding BioServe's Group Activation Pack (GAP) loaded with frozen bacterial samples, and Luis Zea.


BioServe Space Technologies        CU

Rylee Schauer - Rylee Schauer holds a B.S in Chemical and Biological Engineering from University of Colorado, Boulder with a minor in Biomedical Engineering.  She is currently pursuing a M.S. in Aerospace Engineering with a focus in Bioastronautics at CU Boulder. Rylee leads the fungal laboratory work of this project, performing ground tests with Penicillium Rubens to determine the spaceflight experimental protocol and preparing for launch. 

Pamela Flores - Pamela graduated with a B.S. in Biochemistry and Microbiology from Universidad del Valle de Guatemala and is currently pursuing a PhD. in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at CU. She is leading the bacterial work of this project, using Pseudomonas aeruginosa as bacterial strain in ground-based experiments to validate the spaceflight operational and post-flight data analisis protocols in preparation for flight. 

DLR logo

Marta Cortesão - Marta received her MSc degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology from FCUP (University of Porto), doing her MSc thesis at the Centre for Astrobiology (CAB) in Madrid. She is now a PhD student at the Space Microbiology Research Group at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne (under the supervision of Dr. Ralf Möller), working on filamentous fungi adaptation to space conditions and their biotechnological applications. She loves astrobiology, education and science outreach. On the Space Biofilms project, she is characterizing biofilm formation of the fungus Penicillium rubens in simulated microgravity, helping the team define and set the upcoming ISS experiment!

MIT Logo

Samantha McBride is a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering at MIT where she is advised by Dr. Kripa Varanasi. She has a B.S. in Environmental Engineering and an M.S. in Chemical Engineering, and her lab experience includes water treatment, environmental transport, crystallization, self-assembly, and microgravity fluid mechanics. She has been involved with space science for 5 years and is currently the student president for the American Society of Gravitational and Space Research


Jiaqi Luo is a PhD student in Saarland University under supervision of Prof. Dr. Frank Mücklich, working on antibacterial surfaces and relevant surface techniques. He has received his Bachelor and Master degrees in Materials Science and Engineering from Central South University in China, where he was introduced to the surface science and coating techniques. In this current project, he is applying the method of Direct Laser Interference Patterning (DLIP) to produce surfaces with designed micro-topography.


Katherinne Herrera - Katherinne is working towards a B.S. in Biochemistry and Microbiology at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala and is passionate about bioastronautics. In this project, she is in charge of microscopy images of suspended P. aeruginosa, characterizing cell size and morphology differences between bacteria cultured in space and their Earth controls.



Zeena Nisar - Zeena double-majored in Biochemistry and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology with a minor in English and a certificate in Public Health. She assisted on the preliminary ground testing of the bacteria with the material coupons. 

Shilpi Ganguly - Shilpi recieved her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering with a second major in Spanish and minor in Aerospace Engineering from Washington University in St.Lous. She received her M.S. in Modern Human Anatomy from The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and based her Master's Thesis work on this project, namely on characterizing biofilm growth on silicone (same as used to make catheters). 


Project Bibliography


M.Sc. Thesis

Journal Articles

Conference Papers, Abstracts, Posters, STEM Outreach, & Podcasts

  • Zea, L, & Jakosky, B., A View From Earth, Fiske Planetarium, Episode 8 - Life finds a Way - Or does it? July 2020 
  • Wahl, K., Bernstein, V., Knipp, D. Deep Space Radiation Genomics (DSRG) Experiment on Artemis 1: Magnetotail and Bow shock Affect, Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Final Presentations, University of Colorado, Boulder, July 29, 2020 
  • Schauer, R., Ganguly S., Nisar, Z., Cortesao, M., Moeller, R., Luo, J., Muecklich, F., McBride, S.A., Varanasi, K., Sato, K., Gorti, S., Klaus, D., Stodieck, L., Zea, L. (2018). Tests in Preparation for a Spaceflight Fungal and Bacterial Biofilm Experiment, 34th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR), October 31-November 3, 2018, Washington, D.C (Oral presentation)
  • Nisar, Z., Ganguly, S., Stodieck, L., Zea, L., Defining a Spaceflight Biofilm Experiment Through Comprehensive Assessment of Material, Media, and Hardware Biocompatibility, IAC-18,A2,7,14,x45464, 69th International Astronautical Congress, Bremen, Germany, 1-5 October 2018 (Oral presentation and conference paper)
  • Cortesao, M., Rubin, P., Mucklich, F., Hellweg, C., Stodieck, L., Klaus, D., Moeller, R., Zea, L., Controlling Spaceflight Fungal Biofilms: the Search for Antimicrobial Surfaces, IAC-18,A2,7,15,x46729, 69th International Astronautical Congress, Bremen, Germany, 1-5 October 2018 (Oral presentation and conference paper)
  • Cortesao, M., de Haas, A., Laue, M., Hemmersbach, R., Hellweg, C., Venkateswaran, K., Zea, L., Moeller, R., Fungi in space: Implications for astronaut health and planetary protection, EANA 2018, Berlin, Germany, 24-28 September 2018
  • Cortesão, M., Luo, J., Müller, D., Nisar, Z., Rubin, P., Mücklich F., Hemmersbach, R., Hellweg, C.E., Zea, L., Moeller, R., Biofilm in Space (BFS): Designing a Spaceflight Experiment, 42nd COSPAR Scientific Assembly, Pasadena, CA, July 14-22, 2018 (Oral presentation) and Biofilms 8, Aarhus, Denmark, May 27-29, 2018 (Poster)
  • Zea, L., Preparando un experimento de biopelículas microbianas a ser llevado a cabo en la Estación Espacial Internacional, CONVERCIENCIA, Guatemala City, Guatemala, July 23-27, 2018 (Abstract)
  • Ganguly, S., Characterization of Pseudomonas aeruginosa Growth Patterns Under Varying Gravitational Regimes, Anshutz Medical Campus Master of Science in Modern Human Anatomy Capstone Presentation Sessions, University of Colorado, Denver, CO, April 17, 2018 (poster)
  • Cortesão, M., Luo, J., Müller, D., Nisar, Z., Mücklich F., Hemmersbach, R., Hellweg, C.E., Zea, L., Moeller, R. Growth and Biofilm Formation of Penicillium chrysogenum in Simulated Microgravity, 12th conference of the VAAM special group Molecular Biology of Fungi, September 28-30, 2017 (poster) and American Society for Gravitational and Space Related Research (ASGSR), October 25-28, 2017 (poster)
  • Zea, L., Luo, J., Moeller, R., Klaus, D., Mueller, D., Muecklich, F., Stodieck, L., Design of a Spaceflight Biofilm Experiment, 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), Adelaide, Australia, 25-29 September 2017, IAC-17.A1.6.8x36309,  Sep-2017 (oral presentation and paper)
  • Nisar, Z., Stodieck., L., Zea, L., Ground Testing of Biofilm Formation on Spaceflight-Relevant Materials, American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR), Seattle, WA, October 24-28, 2017 (poster)



NASA announcement:

Marta Cortesao's Space Microbes Blog: