Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran (Venkat) is the Senior Research Scientist at NASA – Jet Propulsion Laboratory and supports Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group. His 39+ years of research encompass marine, food, and environmental microbiology. He is also leading ISS “Microbial Observatory” projects to measure microorganisms associated with U.S. nodes, as well as Kibo Japanese Experiment Modules. He has applied his research in molecular microbial analysis to better understand the ecological aspects of microbes, while conducting field studies in several extreme environments such as deep sea (2,500 m), spacecraft mission (Mars Odyssey, Genesis, Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Express), assembly facility clean rooms (various NASA and European Space Agency [ESA] facilities), and the space environment in Earth orbit (ISS; ESA Columbus facility).
He directs several research and development tasks for the JPL – Mars Program Office, which enables the cleaning, sterilization, and validation of spacecraft components. He directs several NASA competitive awards on the microbial monitoring of spacecraft and associated environments for the Exploration System Mission Directorate, closed habitats like ISS or its Earth analogues for the Human Exploration and Operation Mission Directorate. Also, he provides expertise for non-NASA programs such as commercial agencies (Boeing – airline cabin air measurement), medical industries (tissue and organ transplants processing) in measuring microbial pathogens that are problematic and health related.
The bioinformatics databases generated by Venkateswaran’s team are extremely useful in the development of biosensors. Further, these models or information in database are extrapolated to what is known about the spacecraft surfaces and enclosed habitats in an attempt to determine forward contamination as well as develop countermeasures (advance cleaning and sterilization technologies) to control the problematic microbial species. Specifically, his research into the study of clean room environment using state-of-the art molecular analysis coupled with nucleic acid and protein-based microarray, will allow accurate interpretation of data and implementation of planetary protection policies of present missions, helping to set standards for future life-detection missions.