Kombucha cultures – a mix of bacteria and yeast – protect themselves against adverse conditions by making a cellulose-based structure to resist high temperatures and radiation. The biofilm is thick enough to see with the naked eye, even though it is created by microorganisms.
Searching for signs of biofilms in our Solar System is easier than looking for the microscopic life that creates them and could still reveal microbial life beyond our planet.
On the ground, Kombucha cultures are particularly robust when mixed with simulated Moon dust. The cellulose absorbs minerals from the lunar soil, protecting the culture even more.
In addition, microbial cellulose is a promising nanomaterial for the space industry and studying it in open space has practical value for new technologies.
Tests on Earth have shown that these multicellular biofilms are tough and will most probably survive an unprotected trip through space. But there is only one way to tell for sure and that is why the Kombucha-making organisms and other biological specimens are now circling Earth exposed to space.