NASA 1998 SBIR Phase I

PROPOSAL NUMBER: 98-1 09.02-8188B

PROJECT TITLE: Genetic Identification of Significant Microorganism Directly from Air or Water


The need to monitor and rapidly identify the microorganisms inhabiting a spacecraft's recycled water and atmosphere is of critical importance in assessing thresholds of unacceptable contamination levels. This assessment is significantly hindered by current microbiological methods requiring culture and isolation, or molecular methods requiring prior knowledge of the target organism. The significant innovation proposed here is a method to simultaneously and without bias amplify, separate, and identify of all the genetically different microbial species directly from a single complex sample of air or water. From a single analysis, denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) can provide a comprehensive survey of all the bacteria, fungi or protozoa present and a breakdown by percentage of the relative abundance of each species. Modification of the DGGE procedure will allow quantitative determination of the total number of each organism within a sample. This technology is based on amplification of a 16S rDNA fragment from all phylogenetically related bacteria within a user defined group. The level of specificity can range from all species within a kingdom to one genetically unique species. The DGGE process has the potential to be incorporated onto a microchip for rapid, automated use aboard spacecraft or for wide industrial applications.


Excellent commercial potential exists for the proposed technology to identify significant microorganisms and determine their relative abundance from indoor air or water samples. The first market targeted will be industrial hygienists. Laboratory services will be provided to the large industrial hygiene market servicing sick buildings in industry, food vendors and hospitals. After the Phase II effort, the contractor will team with a chip manufacturer to produce small, hand held devices for the rapid identification of specific airborne or aqueous microorganisms. Microbial characterizations of indoor air currently rely on culturing and isolating microorganisms. It has been well documented that less then 5% of environmental organisms can be successfully cultured; therefore, a molecular approach is needed. The contractor is currently serving the industrial hygiene market using technology developed in a previous NASA Phase II contract. However, the contractor needs the ability to more specifically identify the organisms present in the air or water sample. This proposed development has the advantage of being able to quickly and accurately characterize microorganisms from a single sample.


Stephanie Leigh Whitaker
Microbial Insights, Inc.
2340 Stock Creek Blvd.
Rockford , TN 378533044


Microbial Insights, Inc.
2340 Stock Creek Blvd.
Rockford , TN 37853-3044