The Unit for Microbiology investigates the genetics and the physiology of the bacterium Cupriavidus metallidurans CH34, in response to various environmental stressors including heavy metals and xenobiotics.
Furthermore, the team is involved in research related to Life Support Systems for long-haul space flights. The laboratory characterises the behaviour of several bacteria under space flight conditions (cosmic radiation and microgravity).
This research group also analyses the microbial species and their mobile genetic elements contaminating the International Space Station and aims at estimating the impact of bacteria on the health of the astronauts and the integrity of spatial hardware.
These studies help to optimise the survival, safety and well-being of man when exposed to environments with higher radiation doses and possibly dangerous contaminations encountered in space and on Earth.
The dose rate from cosmic radiation in space is 100 to 1000 times higher than on earth. With the growing interest in long-haul flights, characterising the behaviour of bacteria under space flight conditions (cosmic radiation and microgravity) is becoming more important.
Since the taxi flight of Frank De Winne in 2002, our laboratory analyses the microbial contamination aboard the International Space Station on a regular basis in order to assess the impact of bacteria on the health of the astronauts and on the integrity of the spatial hardware.
The results of the space flight experiments are also used to develop a regenerative life support system (microbial recycling of waste to food) for prolonged missions, such as a trip to Mars.
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Geological disposal of radioactive waste is another research topic: microbial activity induced by the excavation of disposal galleries in Boom clay could alter the properties of the surrounding clay layer and could compromise its characteristics for the long‑term storage of radioactive waste.
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