A team of researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will send an army of microorganisms into space to investigate new ways of preventing the formation and spread of biofilms - or clusters of bacteria - that could pose a threat to the health of astronauts.

The Micro-2 experiment, funded by NASA, is scheduled to launch into orbit on May 14, spending a week aboard the Atlantis space shuttle before returning to Earth.

The researchers will send up eight group activation packs (GAPs), each containing 128 vials of bacteria, aboard the shuttle. While in orbit, the astronauts will begin to manipulate the sealed vials and introduce the bacteria to different membranes. Meanwhile, researchers on Earth will perform the same actions with identical GAPs on Earth at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After the shuttle returns, the team will compare the resulting biofilms in order to determine how the behavior of bacteria and development of biofilms were affected by microgravity.

The experiment will also help indicate whether nanotechnology-based antimicrobial surfaces (newly developed at Rensselaer) can help slow growth of biofilms on Earth and in microgravity.

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