Scientists at NASA have named a new organism discovered by them after the much-loved Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Till date, the new organism — a form of bacteria — has been found only on the International Space Station (ISS) and has not been found on earth! Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the foremost lab of NASA for work on interplanetary travel, discovered the new bacteria on the filters of the International Space Station (ISS) and named it Solibacillus kalamii to honour the late President, who was a renowned aerospace scientist. Dr. Kalam had his early training at NASA in 1963 before he set up India’s first rocket-launching facility in the fishing village of Thumba in Kerala. “The name of the bacterium is Solibacillus kalamii, the species name is after Dr. Abdul Kalam and genus name is Solibacillus which is a spore-forming bacteria,” said Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran, senior research scientist, Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group at JPL. The filter on which the new bug was found remained on board the ISS for 40 months. Called a high-efficiency particulate arrestance filter or HEPA filter, this part is the routine housekeeping and cleaning system on board the international space station. This filter was later analysed at JPL and only this year did Dr. Venkateswaran publish his discovery in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. According to Dr. Venkateswaran, even as it orbits the earth some 400 kilometres above, the ISS is home to many types of bacteria and fungi which co-inhabit the station with the astronauts who live and work on the station. Dr. Venkateswaran said even though Solibacillus kalamii has never been found on earth till date, it is really not an extra-terrestrial life form or ET. “I am reasonably sure it has hitch-hiked to the space station on board some cargo and then survived the hostile conditions of space,” he explained. Naming the new microbe after Dr. Kalam was natural to Dr. Venkateswaran and his team. “Being a fellow Tamilian, I am aware of the huge contributions by Dr. Kalam,” he said. New bacteria are usually named after famous scientists. Dr. Venkateswaran is part of a team which is asking that eternal question: “Are we alone in the universe?” Towards that, his responsibilities include monitoring the bug levels on the ISS and he also has to ensure that all spacecraft that fly to other planets are free of terrestrial bugs.
Source : http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/