Just like students in a university classroom, bacteria are adept at learning and responding to new information. Exactly how bacteria respond to environmental forces can be difficult to study when there are ongoing changes in the microbial community — changes such as the introduction of new organisms from soil, variations in temperature or humidity levels, or humans shedding microbes on skin flakes or in exhaled droplets.
Surprisingly, isolated space stations provide an excellent setting to study bacteria without the many variations found on Earth. What exactly can bacteria residing in spaceships tell us about building disinfection and indoor air management on earth? The space laboratory can demonstrate how microbes might respond to our building cleaning interventions, such as radiation from UV-C lights in HVAC ducts, oxidation from hydrogen peroxide aerosols in hospital rooms, desiccation from dry indoor air, and other earthly environmental stressors. If bacteria are going to evolve superpowers from our disinfection efforts, we should know sooner rather than later.