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Aliens have been found aboard the International Space Station.
Scientists have discovered three new genetic variants of bacteria inside the manned spacecraft which orbits the Earth 15 times-a-day 250 miles high.
The microorganisms were found at separate locations including a special plant growth chamber where researchers have been attempting to cultivate crops in zero gravity conditions.
The three strains of Methylobacteriaceae – which are "rod-shaped and capable of movement" – were "previously undiscovered", according to a NASA study published in science journal Frontiers In Microbiology.
Researchers think they could help with the eventual colonisation of Mars as their characteristics include helping vegetation grow.
The discovery has been deemed so important that boffins now want to expand the station to include a new biology lab to collect, process and analyse microbes in space without having to ship them back to Earth.
Scientists have been surveying the craft – launched in 1998, run by five international space agencies and manned by inter-changing crews of seven astronauts – for the presence of microorganisms for at least six years.
NASA scientists Dr Nitin Kumar Singh and Dr Kasthuri Venkateswaran said the newly-found strains might be a game-changer for the future of space crops.
They said it was essential to find new bacteria that assist in plant growth under stressful conditions in extreme places with scarce resources.
The discoveries make a case to expand the space station to `mitigate the lengthy process of continuously sending samples back to Earth’, according to science news website Universal-Sci.com.
"Rather than returning samples back to Earth for examinations an integrated microbial monitoring system that collects, processes, and analyses samples on location, in space, using molecular technologies would vastly expedite the process,’’ the website states.
"Researchers think these three newly discovered strains might be useful in helping vegetation grow on Mars because Methylobacterium species are known to promote plant growth," it continues.
"It will be a challenge to nurture and grow plants when we finally start a colony on the Red Planet."
The discovery of the new bacteria "might make things a little easier", it concludes.
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