Government Partnerships

The Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group has strategic partnerships with various organizations, industries and institutions. The major commitments to develop new science and technology opportunities and provide accelerated innovation for NASA’s missions fosters strong collaborative relationships and ensures a pipeline to meet future challenges in science, technology, and engineering.

JPL Partnerships

Contamination Control

While the Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group cares about microbial contamination, the Contamination Control Group cares about molecular and particulate contamination that can degrade the performance of a part, subsystem, or system. Molecular types of contamination include grease, oil, fingerprint residue, aerosols, organics, and out-gassing vapors from materials. Particulate types of contamination include garment fibers, dust, and smoke. As a result, Contamination Control plays an extensive role in the design, manufacturing, integration, testing and flight phases of each mission. Similar to the Planetary Protection Plan, the Contamination Control Plan details cleaning methods and allowable contamination for each mission. Should NASA decide to bring samples back from Mars, a tight coordination between Planetary Protection and Contamination Control would be necessary for hardware development and assembly, test, and launch operations, to ensure that biological, particulate, or molecular contaminates do not compromise returned sample science investigations.

NASA Partnerships

Ames Research Center

One of the Ames Research Center core competencies is Astrobiology and Life Science. Science payloads developed at Ames that are aboard the ISS, Russian probes, and small satellites, allow scientists to conduct biological research and develop technology necessary to enable NASA’s long-term human exploration missions. Ames is also home to the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) for research, for the investigation about the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.

Relevant Publications

Horneck, Gerda, et al. "Resistance of bacterial endospores to outer space for planetary protection purposes—experiment PROTECT of the EXPOSE-E mission." Astrobiology 12.5 (2012): 445-456.

Osman, Shariff, et al. "Effect of shadowing on survival of bacteria under conditions simulating the Martian atmosphere and UV radiation." Applied and environmental microbiology 74.4 (2008): 959-970.

Gioia, Jason, et al. "Paradoxical DNA repair and peroxide resistance gene conservation in Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032." PLoS One 2.9 (2007): e928.

International Space Station (ISS)

The International Space Station provides a platform for investigating microbes without the constraint of gravity. Research provides useful information for novel drugs and life support capabilities for the next generation of human space flight.

International Space Station Microbial Observatory of Pathogenic Virus, Bacteria, and Fungi Project
ISS crewmembers will collect samples from mouth, skin, and nasal cavity as well as environmental samples from the ISS surfaces and the air. Researchers can then use the data to realize the total microbial communities of crew-associated environments. The methods used allow researchers to determine if any microbial signatures identified (e.g., resistant traits) are of any concern to the health of the crew and the ISS spacecraft habitat.

BRIC- Natural Product under Microgravity
Microgravity is a stressful growth environment. Fungi in these types of environments can produce natural bi-products with potential use in pharmaceuticals.

Relevant Publications

Venkateswaran, Kasthuri, et al. "International Space Station environmental microbiome—microbial inventories of ISS filter debris." Applied microbiology and biotechnology 98.14 (2014): 6453-6466.

La Duc, Myron T., et al. "Evidence of pathogenic microbes in the International Space Station drinking water: reason for concern?." Habitation10.1 (2004): 39-48.

Venkateswaran, Kasthuri, Myron T. La Duc, and Gerda Horneck. "Microbial existence in controlled habitats and their resistance to space conditions." Microbes and environments 29.3 (2014): 243-249.

Johnson Space Center (JSC)

NASA’s Johnson Space Center primarily serves as a hub for human spaceflight activity (e.g., International Space Station mission operations). The center also provides a curation laboratory for extraterrestrial samples.

The Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office was established on July 1, 2001. The goal of the office is to support the international planetary science community through curation of extraterrestrial sample collection: Apollo lunar samples, meteorites collected in Antarctica, and samples from upcoming missions. Curation at JSC involves protecting samples from contamination, preserving a portion of each sample for future study, documenting the samples’ handling history and preliminary examination (weight, location, and physical description), providing sample information to the public, and distributing samples to scientists around the world for study. The office also invests in forward planning efforts for all funded and proposed sample return missions, and research and development, in support of current and future sample curation (e.g., robotic curation and detection of trace-level organic and microbial contamination).

Relevant Publications

Checinska, Aleksandra, et al. "Microbiomes of the dust particles collected from the International Space Station and Spacecraft Assembly Facilities."Microbiome 3.1 (2015): 1.

La Duc, Myron T., et al. "Evidence of pathogenic microbes in the International Space Station drinking water: reason for concern?." Habitation 10.1 (2004): 39-48.

Venkateswaran, Kasthuri, et al. "International Space Station environmental microbiome—microbial inventories of ISS filter debris." Applied microbiology and biotechnology 98.14 (2014): 6453-6466.

Kennedy Space Center (KSC)

NASA's Center of Excellence for launch and payload processing systems.

Relevant Publications

Benardini, James, et al. International Space Station Internal active thermal control system: an initial assessment of the microbial communities within fluid from ground support and flight hardware. No. 2005-01-3094. SAE Technical Paper, 2005.

Benardini, James N., et al. "Spore UV and acceleration resistance of endolithic Bacillus pumilus and Bacillus subtilis isolates obtained from Sonoran desert basalt: implications for lithopanspermia." Astrobiology 3.4 (2003): 709-717.

Gioia, Jason, et al. "Paradoxical DNA repair and peroxide resistance gene conservation in Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032." PLoS One 2.9 (2007): e928.

Horneck, Gerda, et al. "Resistance of bacterial endospores to outer space for planetary protection purposes—experiment PROTECT of the EXPOSE-E mission." Astrobiology 12.5 (2012): 445-456.

La Duc, Myron T., et al. "Microbial characterization of the Mars Odyssey spacecraft and its encapsulation facility." Environmental microbiology 5.10 (2003): 977-985.

Link, L., et al. "Extreme spore UV resistance of Bacillus pumilus isolates obtained from an ultraclean spacecraft assembly facility." Microbial ecology47.2 (2004): 159-163.

VVenkateswaran, Kasthuri, et al. "Bacillus nealsonii sp. nov., isolated from a spacecraft-assembly facility, whose spores are γ-radiation resistant."International journal of systematic and evolutionary microbiology 53.1 (2003): 165-172.

Moores, J. E., et al. "The shielding effect of small-scale martian surface geometry on ultraviolet flux." Icarus 192.2 (2007): 417-433.

Newcombe, David A., et al. "Survival of spacecraft-associated microorganisms under simulated martian UV irradiation." Applied and environmental microbiology 71.12 (2005): 8147-8156.

Schuerger, Andrew C., et al. "Rapid inactivation of seven Bacillus spp. under simulated Mars UV irradiation." Icarus 181.1 (2006): 52-62.

National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC)

“Since the inception of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) has developed the science critical to defend the United States against bioterrorism. Managed by Battelle National Biodefense Institute (BNBI) as a NASA Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC), NBACC is the first laboratory built for DHS – a national resource to understand the scientific basis of the risk posed by biological threats and to attribute their use in bioterror and biocrime events.”

One of the ways in which NBACC worked closely with JPL was to help identify the possible presence of B. anthracis (Anthrax) on board the International Space Station. Bioinformatics capabilities at NBACC allowed researchers to conclude that the samples collected from the ISS were not B. anthracis but rather a new species, B. issensis.

Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI)

The mission of the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) is to advance genomics in support of the DOE missions related to clean energy generation and environmental characterization and cleanup. The University of California operates the DOE JGI and provides integrated high-throughput sequencing, DNA design and synthesis, metabolomics, and computational analysis. In collaboration with DOE JGI, the Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group at JPL published the first “viability linked” metagenomics analysis of spacecraft cleanroom environments.

Weinmaier, Thomas, et al. "A viability-linked metagenomic analysis of cleanroom environments: eukarya, prokaryotes, and viruses." Microbiome 3.1 (2015): 62.

Industry Partnerships



The Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group at JPL performed a study to assess the total microbial bioburden and diversity associated with commercial airline cabin air. The monitoring and control of air quality aboard commercial aircraft is critical due to the transmission of emerging diseases. Passengers and crewmembers are the predominant source of microbial contamination. The study included samples from three commercial carriers. Samples were collected prior to boarding, mid-flight and during descent. Sampling areas included seat, floor and lavatory locations. Among the results, data showed that the microbiological community differed on domestic flights compared with international flights and that viable microbes were drastically reduced during descent of the aircraft versus during passenger boarding.

Relevant Publications

Osman, Shariff, et al. "Microbial burden and diversity of commercial airline cabin air during short and long durations of travel." The ISME journal 2.5 (2008): 482-497.

Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company whose Space Systems facility in Denver is building the InSight spacecraft. InSight is the sixth Discovery mission in which Lockheed Martin Space Systems has participated. The Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group at JPL directly interfaces with the Planetary Protection management and engineering teams at Lockheed Martin. Through consultation and coordinated Planetary Protection implementation effort, they ensure compliance with Planetary Protection requirements


Under JPL contract, STERIS Corporation conducts research and development activities to optimize and certify a STERIS patented proprietary sterilization technology for application in spacecraft systems and sub-systems sterilization. The goal of the research is to demonstrate the effectiveness of vapor hydrogen peroxide (VHP) in killing a selection of microorganisms known to be highly resistant to sterilization that are typically found in spacecraft assembly areas. This technique serves as an alternative for heat microbial reduction whose process is not ideal for heat sensitive hardware. Les C. Vinney, STERIS's President and Chief Executive Officer said, "We are pleased to be working with NASA and supporting their efforts to explore our solar system. STERIS technologies are used to sterilize and decontaminate critical environments every day in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, and research industries worldwide. This agreement reinforces our belief that our technologies can be used in even broader applications, and represents one of several steps we are taking to adapt our technologies to new markets, a key element of our growth strategy. We look forward to working with NASA on this and future projects."

Relevant Publications

Chen, Fei, et al. "Planetary protection concerns during pre-launch radioisotope power system final integration activities." (2012).

University Partnerships

California Institute of Technology (CALTECH)

JPL's beginnings can be traced back to a few Caltech students and amateur rocket enthusiasts in the mid-1930s. After an unintended explosion on campus, the group and its experiments relocated to an isolated area next to the San Gabriel Mountains: the present-day site of JPL. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was founded in October 1958, and JPL turned its attention from the rockets themselves to the payloads (scientific spacecraft) they would carry. JPL is an FFRDC (Federally Funded Research and Development Center), and is managed for NASA by Caltech under a contractual arrangement begun in 1958. Thus, “JPLers” are Caltech employees, not government civil servants. Moreover, the Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group at JPL often works with Caltech researchers and scientists to augment space microbiology research.

Relevant Publications

Vaishampayan, Parag, et al. "Bacillus horneckiae sp. nov., isolated from a spacecraft-assembly clean room." International journal of systematic and evolutionary microbiology 60.5 (2010): 1031-1037.

California State University Northridge (CSUN)

Collaboration with the CSUN Biology Department overlaps in several areas of mutual interest. One interest includes the Whole Genome Sequencing of special microorganisms from the Biological Materials Archive at JPL. JPL has hosted CSUN students as summer interns working on the spacecraft microbiology culture collection archive and Heat Microbial reduction projects.

University of California San Diego (UCSD)

The Knight Lab at UCSD School of Medicine, led by Rob Knight, uses and develops state-of-the-art computational and experimental techniques to study different aspects of microbiome research; from bacterial culturing to metagenomic, metatranscriptomic, and metabolimic data production and analysis. The lab also has an affiliation with the university’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering because of Rob’s expertise in bioinformatics. The Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group is particularly interested in the microbiome of spacecraft assembly cleanrooms at JPL. Thus, JPL often takes advantage of the bioinformatics capabilities of the Knight Lab.

University of Houston (UH)

Through a JPL sub-contract, the University of Houston designed a software program called STITCH: Nucleotide sequence algorithms that Search, Trim, Identify, Track, and Capture uniqueness using public and in-House databases. The STITCH software can process raw genetic sequences to automatically remove unwanted vector information, reverse complement, stitch, and search against the user’s choice of public and in-house databases in a single command. The STITCH software can manipulate multiple sequences simultaneously to perform the analyses described above in just a few minutes, as opposed to the hours or days required using current techniques.

Researchers at JPL also collaborate with the University of Houston for microbiome work. The International Space Station has a unique environment (constant presence of humans, microgravity, space radiation, and elevated carbon dioxide). Understanding the nature of the biological communities of the space station is key to managing astronaut health and maintenance of equipment. "Studying the microbial community on the space station helps us better understand the bacteria present there, so that we can identify species that could potentially damage equipment or pose harm to astronaut health. It also helps us identify areas that need more rigorous cleaning," said Kasthuri Venkateswaran (JPL Scientist working in Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group). Venkateswaran and colleagues are using the latest DNA sequencing technologies to rapidly, and precisely, identify the microorganisms present on the space station.

Relevant Publications

Zhu, Dianhui, et al. "STITCH: algorithm to splice, trim, identify, track, and capture the uniqueness of 16s rRNAs sequence pairs using public or in-house database." Microbial ecology 61.3 (2011): 669-675.

Checinska, Aleksandra, et al. "Microbiomes of the dust particles collected from the International Space Station and Spacecraft Assembly Facilities." Microbiome 3.1 (2015): 1.

Gioia, Jason, et al. "Paradoxical DNA repair and peroxide resistance gene conservation in Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032." PLoS One 2.9 (2007): e928.

Tirumalai, Madhan R., et al. "Candidate genes that may be responsible for the unusual resistances exhibited by Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 spores." PLoS One 8.6 (2013): e66012.

Stepanov, Victor G., et al. "Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 Genome Revisited: Sequence Update and Re-Annotation." PloS one 11.6 (2016): e0157331.

Stepanov, Victor G., et al. "Draft genome sequence of Deinococcus phoenicis, a novel strain isolated during the Phoenix Lander spacecraft assembly." Genome announcements 2.2 (2014): e00301-14.

University of Southern California (USC)

JPL is partnering with researchers at USC to be the first team in the world to launch fungi into space. The stressful environment of the International Space Station (ISS) could trigger fungi to produce secondary metabolites, which can be used in pharmaceuticals. Kasthuri Venkateswaran (“Venkat”), senior research scientist at JPL said, “Until now, we have sent bacteria and yeast to the ISS. We have also exposed fungi to facilities outside ISS, but this is the first time we are growing fungi inside ISS to seek new drug discovery. NASA needs to develop self-sustaining measures to keep humans healthy in space because calling 911 is not an option.”

Relevant Publications

Singh, Nitin Kumar, et al. "Draft genome sequences of two Aspergillus fumigatus strains, isolated from the International Space Station." Genome Announcements 4.4 (2016): e00553-16.

International Partnerships

Committee on Space Research (COSPAR)

The International Council for Science established the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) in 1958. COSPAR organizes symposia where scientific research results, information, and opinions are shared with all scientists to discuss space research. The Panel on Planetary Protection (PPP) is primarily concerned with forward contamination (microbial contamination of the solar system by spacecraft that we launch from Earth) and backward contamination (extraterrestrial contamination of the Earth and Moon by way of sample return missions). The PPP holds meetings, workshops, and symposia at COSPAR assemblies. The intent is to develop, maintain, and promote Planetary Protection knowledge, polices, and plans to prevent the harmful effects of such contamination. In July 2018, Pasadena will hold the next scientific assembly.

European Space Agency (ESA)

NASA and ESA Planetary Protection policies ensure compliance with the COSPAR Planetary Protection policy in order to accomplish the responsible exploration of space: preventing both forward and backward contamination. In support of this, JPL partners with ESA to exchange space science information and ideas. This partnership has led to the success of remarkable missions such as Rosetta and the Trace Gas Orbiter.


Trace Gas Orbiter

Collaboration With Countries Resulting
in Publications


Bashir, Mina, et al. "Functional Metagenomics of Spacecraft Assembly Cleanrooms: Presence of Virulence Factors Associated with Human Pathogens." Frontiers in Microbiology 7 (2016).

Mayer, Teresa, et al. "Microbial succession in an inflated lunar/Mars analog habitat during a 30-day human occupation." Microbiome 4.1 (2016): 1.


Vaishampayan, Parag A., et al. "Survival of Bacillus pumilus spores for a prolonged period of time in real space conditions." Astrobiology 12.5 (2012): 487-497.

Venkateswaran, Kasthuri, Myron T. La Duc, and Gerda Horneck. "Microbial existence in controlled habitats and their resistance to space conditions."Microbes and environments 29.3 (2014): 243-249.

Kwan, K., et al. "Evaluation of procedures for the collection, processing, and analysis of biomolecules from low-biomass surfaces." Applied and environmental microbiology 77.9 (2011): 2943-2953.

Moissl, Christine, James C. Bruckner, and Kasthuri Venkateswaran. "Archaeal diversity analysis of spacecraft assembly clean rooms." The ISME journal 2.1 (2008): 115-119.

Vaishampayan, Parag, et al. "Description of Tersicoccus phoenicis gen. nov., sp. nov. isolated from spacecraft assembly clean room environments."International journal of systematic and evolutionary microbiology 63.7 (2013): 2463-2471

Probst, Alexander, et al. "Diversity of anaerobic microbes in spacecraft assembly clean rooms." Applied and environmental microbiology 76.9 (2010): 2837-2845.


Krebs, Jordan E., et al. "Microbial community structures of novel icelandic hot spring systems revealed by PhyloChip G3 Analysis." Astrobiology 14.3 (2014): 229-240.

Marteinsson, Viggó, et al. "A Laboratory of Extremophiles: Iceland Coordination Action for Research Activities on Life in Extreme Environments (CAREX) Field Campaign." Life 3.1 (2013): 211-233.


Newcombe, David, et al. "Bacillus canaveralius sp. nov., an alkali-tolerant bacterium isolated from a spacecraft assembly facility." International journal of systematic and evolutionary microbiology 59.8 (2009): 2015-2019.

Osman, Shariff, et al. "Tetrasphaera remsis sp. nov., isolated from the Regenerative Enclosed Life Support Module Simulator (REMS) air system."International journal of systematic and evolutionary microbiology 57.12 (2007): 2749-2753.

Vaishampayan, Parag, et al. "Bacillus horneckiae sp. nov., isolated from a spacecraft-assembly clean room." International journal of systematic and evolutionary microbiology 60.5 (2010): 1031-1037.

Vaishampayan, Parag, et al. "Deinococcusphoenicis sp. nov., an extreme ionizing-radiation-resistant bacterium isolated from the Phoenix Lander assembly facility." International journal of systematic and evolutionary microbiology 64.10 (2014): 3441-3446.

Behera, Pratiksha, et al. "The draft genome sequence of Mangrovibacter sp. strain MP23, an endophyte isolated from the roots of Phragmites karka." Genomics Data 9 (2016): 128-129.


Venkateswaran, Kasthuri, et al. "ATP as a biomarker of viable microorganisms in clean-room facilities." Journal of Microbiological Methods52.3 (2003): 367-377.


De Vries, Lisbeth E., et al. "The gut as reservoir of antibiotic resistance: microbial diversity of tetracycline resistance in mother and infant." PloS one6.6 (2011): e21644.

Vaishampayan, Parag A., et al. "Comparative metagenomics and population dynamics of the gut microbiota in mother and infant." Genome biology and evolution 2 (2010): 53-66.


Bengtsson, Johan, et al. "Megraft: a software package to graft ribosomal small subunit (16S/18S) fragments onto full-length sequences for accurate species richness and sequencing depth analysis in pyrosequencing-length metagenomes and similar environmental datasets." Research in microbiology 163.6 (2012): 407-412.

Nilsson, R. Henrik, et al. "Five simple guidelines for establishing basic authenticity and reliability of newly generated fungal ITS sequences." MycoKeys 4 (2012): 37.

CL#: 17-1953, 18-1585

Site Manager: Alvin Smith

Webmaster: James Ray

back to top