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Copper-based materials as potential antimicrobials for spaceflight activities

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In this era of antimicrobial resistance, many antibiotics are becoming useless and the global threat renewed the interest in alternative strategies. Interestingly, this renewed interest also attracted the attention of different space agencies to re-evaluate their prevention, monitoring and mitigation measures that ensure crew health and safety during (long-term) space missions. A group of antimicrobials that is actively explored are metals, both metal ions and metallic surfaces, and their effect on bacteria is studied for free-living planktonic cells as well as biofilms. Different studies with bacteria isolated from the International Space Station indicated that they are able to adhere and grow on textile and metal surfaces and can rapidly evolve increased resistance to metal ions. These observations highlight the necessity to characterize their adaptability to metals in order to scrutinize the usefulness of metals as antimicrobial compounds in space applications. In this project (supported by ESA and Belspo), the adaptation of a set of gram-negative bacteria isolated from space-related environments to metal-based antimicrobials, with a focus on copper, will be dissected in order to scrutinize their efficacy and ensure correct assessment in space applications. The latter will be validated during an experiment onboard the ISS.

Remark : This topic is awaiting financing and is therefore not yet fully certain of kick-off in October 2021.

The minimum diploma level of the candidate needs to be

  • Master of sciences
  • Master of sciences in engineering

The candidate needs to have a background in

  • Bio-engineering
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Other

Estimated duration

4 years

Expert group


SCK CEN Mentor

Van Houdt Rob
rvhoudto [at]
+32 (0)14 33 27 28


Matroule Jean-Yves
jean-yves.matroule [at]