All About That (Nucleic) Base

Studying DNA Aboard the International Space Station

What do astronauts, microbes and plants all have in common? Each relies on DNA – essentially a computer code for living things – to grow and thrive. The microscopic size of DNA, however, can create some big challenges for studying it aboard the International Space Station.

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The real question about DNA in space:
but why, tho?

Studying DNA in space could lead to a better understanding of
microgravity’s impact on living organisms and could also offer ways to identify
unknown microbes in spacecraft, humans and the deep space locations we hope to
visit one day.

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Most Earth-based
molecular research equipment is large and requires significant amounts of power
to run. Those are two characteristics that can be difficult to support aboard
the station, so previous research samples requiring DNA amplification and sequencing had to be stored in space until they
could be sent back to Earth aboard a cargo spacecraft, adding to the time
required to get results.

Fun science pro tip:
amplification means to make lots and lots of copies of a specific section of
DNA.

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However, all of
that has changed in a few short years as we’ve worked to find new solutions
for rapid in-flight molecular testing aboard the space station.

“We need[ed] to
get machines to be compact, portable, robust, and independent of much power
generation to allow for more agile testing in space,” NASA astronaut and molecular biologist Kate
Rubins said in a 2016 downlink with the National Institutes of Health.

The result? An advanced
suite of tabletop and palm-sized tools including MinION, miniPCR, and Wet-Lab-2, and more tools and processes on the
horizon.

The timeline:

Space-based DNA
testing took off in 2016 with the Biomolecule Sequencer.

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Comprised of
the MinION sequencer and a Surface Pro 3 tablet for analysis, the
tool was used to sequence DNA in space for the first time with Rubins at the helm.

In 2017, that tool was used again for Genes in Space-3, as NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson
collected and tested samples of microbial growth from around the station.

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Alongside MinION,
astronauts also tested miniPCR, a thermal cycler used to perform the polymerase
chain reaction that had been downsized to fit workbenches aboard the space
station. Together these platforms provided the identification of unknown
station microbes for the first time EVER from space.

This year, those testing capabilities translated
into an even stronger portfolio of DNA-focused research for the orbiting
laboratory’s fast-paced science schedule. For example, miniPCR is being used to
test weakened immune systems and DNA alterations as part of a student-designed
investigation known as Genes in Space-5.

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The study hopes
to reveal more about astronaut health and potential stress-related changes to
DNA created by spaceflight. Additionally, WetLab-2 facility is a suite of tools aboard the station
designed to process biological samples for real-time gene expression analysis.

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More tools for filling out the complete
molecular studies opportunities on the orbiting laboratory are heading to space
soon.

“The mini
revolution has begun,” said Sarah Wallace, our principal investigator for
the upcoming Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) investigation. “These are very small, efficient tools. We
have a nicely equipped molecular lab on station and devices ideally sized for
spaceflight.”

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BEST is
scheduled to launch to the station later this spring and will compare
swab-to-sequencer testing of unknown microbes aboard the space station against current
culture-based methods.

Fast, reliable
sequencing and identification processes could keep explorers safer on missions
into deep space. On Earth, these technologies may make genetic research more
accessible, affordable and mobile.

To learn more
about the science happening aboard the space station, follow @ISS_Research for daily updates. For opportunities to
see the space station pass over your town, check out Spot
the Station
.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

[Updated!] First Product from NASA Fanboy: Ast…

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Craving some summer Sun? We’re inviting …

Craving some summer Sun? We’re inviting people around the world to submit their names to be placed on a microchip that will travel to the Sun aboard Parker Solar Probe! 

Launching summer 2018, Parker Solar Probe will be our first mission to “touch” a star. The spacecraft – about the size of a small car – will travel right through the Sun’s atmosphere, facing brutal temperatures and radiation as it traces how energy and heat move through the solar corona and explores what accelerates the solar wind and solar energetic particles.

Send your name along for the ride at go.nasa.gov/HotTicket! Submissions will be accepted through April 27, 2018. 

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

[Updated!] First Product from NASA Fanboy: Ast…

[Updated!] First Product from NASA Fanboy: Astro art prints!:

Updated: I’ve struck a better deal for the printing process and am thrilled to offer a drastically reduced price on this 24"x36" print! I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time, and am thrilled to finally introduce the first canvas print from Keep Looking Up. I’m working with some incredible craftsmen to create this limited edition run of 24"x36" canvas prints of the iconic Earthrise image from the Apollo 8 mission. I’m looking forward to offering more images in the future and having a full site dedicated to the prints. Check it out, and Keep Looking Up!

[Updated!] First Product from NASA Fanboy: Ast…

[Updated!] First Product from NASA Fanboy: Astro art prints!:

Updated: I’ve struck a better deal for the printing process and am thrilled to offer a drastically reduced price on this 24"x36" print! I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time, and am thrilled to finally introduce the first canvas print from Keep Looking Up. I’m working with some incredible craftsmen to create this limited edition run of 24"x36" canvas prints of the iconic Earthrise image from the Apollo 8 mission. I’m looking forward to offering more images in the future and having a full site dedicated to the prints. Check it out, and Keep Looking Up!

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[Updated!] First Product from NASA Fanboy: Ast…

[Updated!] First Product from NASA Fanboy: Astro art prints!:

Updated: I’ve struck a better deal for the printing process and am thrilled to offer a drastically reduced price on this 24"x36" print! I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time, and am thrilled to finally introduce the first canvas print from Keep Looking Up. I’m working with some incredible craftsmen to create this limited edition run of 24"x36" canvas prints of the iconic Earthrise image from the Apollo 8 mission. I’m looking forward to offering more images in the future and having a full site dedicated to the prints. Check it out, and Keep Looking Up!

[Updated!] First Product from NASA Fanboy: Ast…

[Updated!] First Product from NASA Fanboy: Astro art prints!:

Updated: I’ve struck a better deal for the printing process and am thrilled to offer a drastically reduced price on this 24"x36" print! I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time, and am thrilled to finally introduce the first canvas print from Keep Looking Up. I’m working with some incredible craftsmen to create this limited edition run of 24"x36" canvas prints of the iconic Earthrise image from the Apollo 8 mission. I’m looking forward to offering more images in the future and having a full site dedicated to the prints. Check it out, and Keep Looking Up!