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Bizarre new bacteria discovered in space agency 'clean rooms'

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NASA Clean Room
NASA Clean Room

They're supposed to be the most sterile spots on Earth: space agency "clean rooms," where engineers prepare vessels for launch, are rigorously washed, scrubbed, and heated to eradicate microbes. So ESA scientists were surprised when, in 2009, they discovered within a clean room an unusual bacteria only seen once before — two years earlier and 2,500 miles away inside a NASA clean room at the Kennedy Space Center.

That bacterium has now been analyzed, according to a piece in Scientific American, and appears to be so unusual that it constitutes an entirely new genus. It's never been detected outside of clean rooms, suggesting that the bacterium is uniquely suited to areas with little competition, and robust enough to flourish in inhospitable conditions. Named T. phoenicis, the hardy bug is now being evaluated for its potential to travel from Earth to Mars, and survive on the Red Planet once it arrives.