DNA sequencer proves its worth by solving a microbial mystery on the space station
Science & Technology

DNA sequencer proves its worth by solving a microbial mystery on the space station

NASA isn’t saying it’s aliens — however the space company is touting its capacity to establish organisms utilizing the first DNA sequencer in orbit.

Oxford Nanopore Applied sciences’ palm-sized MiniON sequencer was sent up to the International Space Station last year, and it’s now been paired up with a DNA replicator that’s in a position to amplify genetic samples by way of a course of often called polymerase chain response, or PCR.

Collectively, the units had been employed to verify bacterial samples as a part of an experimental marketing campaign referred to as Genes in Space-3.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, collected the micro organism for the experiment by touching petri plates to varied surfaces of the space station. After culturing the bacterial colonies for about a week, she transferred samples to miniature check tubes inside the station’s Microgravity Science Glovebox.

As Whitson was placing the samples by way of PCR amplification in August, a hurricane was taking goal at Texas.

“We began listening to the reviews of Hurricane Harvey the week in between Peggy performing the first a part of gathering the pattern and gearing up for the precise sequencing,” NASA microbiologist Sarah Wallace, the principal investigator for Genes in Space-3, said in a news release.

Due to the storm, Wallace couldn’t get to NASA’s Johnson Space Middle to speak Whitson by way of the experiment. As an alternative, NASA had her place a cellphone name to Marshall Space Flight Middle in Alabama, the place the Payload Operations Integration Center patched her by way of to the space station.

With Wallace’s steering, Whitson put the DNA by way of the sequencer, and the readings had been downlinked to Houston.

“As soon as we really bought the knowledge on the floor, we had been in a position to flip it round and begin analyzing it,” stated NASA biochemist Aaron Burton, a co-investigator for the challenge. “You get all these squiggle plots, and you need to flip that into A’s, G’s, C’s and T’s.” These chemical compounds — adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine — are the 4 “letters” in the genetic alphabet for the code of life.

NASA’s scientists had beforehand used the sequencer to verify the genetic signatures of ready samples, once they knew what they had been . This was the first time unidentified samples had been sequenced for identification.

“Instantly, we noticed one microorganism pop up, after which a second one, they usually had been issues that we discover all the time on the space station,” Wallace stated.

When the samples had been brought back to Earth with Whitson aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in September, Wallace and her group ran extra rounds of DNA checks to confirm that the identifications had been right.

They had been.

“We did it,” microbiologist Sarah Stahl stated. “All the pieces labored completely.”

Despite the fact that the micro organism weren’t of alien origin this time round, the sample-to-sequence methodology examined in the experiment could possibly be used to establish unique microbes on Mars or different extraterrestrial locales. A extra down-to-earth software can be to help with the prognosis and remedy of astronauts’ illnesses throughout long-duration missions.

“As a microbiologist, my objective is basically in order that after we go and we transfer past ISS, and we’re headed towards Mars or the moon, or wherever we’re headed to, we have now a course of that the crew can have that nice understanding of the surroundings, based mostly on molecular expertise,” Wallace stated.

The Genes in Space-3 experiment was developed for the ISS National Lab by NASA’s Johnson Space Middle and Boeing, and managed by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.

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