First DNA Sequencing In Space A Success

September 7, 2016

By Bio-IT World Staff

September 7, 2016 | DNA has now been successfully sequenced in space, according to a report from NASA. This tremendous feat was performed aboard the International Space Station (ISS) two weeks ago by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins. The sequencing is part of the Biomolecule Sequencer experiment.

 In a statement released last week, NASA referred to the development as a “game changer.”

 The experiment was conducted using MinION, Oxford Nanopore Technologies’ sequencing device small enough to fit in the palm of a hand (see, Citizen Sequencers: Taking Oxford Nanopore's MinION to the Classroom and Beyond)

NASA sent samples of mouse, virus, and bacteria DNA to the ISS. While the astronauts were conducting their experiment aboard the space station, researchers on Earth were sequencing the same DNA samples. The simultaneous tests were conducted in such a way so as to allow microgravity as the only variable that could account for a difference in results. According to NASA’s statement, “the samples were prepared on the ground for sequencing and researchers selected organisms whose DNA has already been completely sequenced so that they knew what results to expect.”

As far as NASA can tell, the results from the sequenced DNA in space and on Earth appear to match up.

News that genetic sequencing has now been achieved in space opens up a world of possibilities in the field of scientific and medical research. Astronauts can now diagnose diseases and determine the threat level of microbes within the orbiting spacecraft. Sarah Castro-Wallace, a NASA microbiologist and project manager, expounded on this in a written statement saying, “Onboard sequencing makes it possible for the crew to know what is in their environment at any time. That allows us on the ground to take appropriate action – do we need to clean this up right away, or will taking antibiotics help or not? We can resupply the station with disinfectants and antibiotics now, but once crews move beyond the station’s low Earth orbit, we need to know when to save those precious resources and when to use them.”

There is still plenty of work to be done in the continuing development of sequencing in space. According to Castro-Wallace, “A next step is to test the entire process in space, including sample preparation as well as performing the sequencing,” This process would eliminate the lost time it takes to wait for the return to Earth in order to begin testing changes in genetic material or gene expression.

The accomplishment of this outer-world sequencing represents a wealth of untapped potential in the study of DNA. Space exploration teams also now have the ability to identify potential DNA-based life forms in the universe. As Rubins said after completing the sequencing: "Welcome to systems biology in space.”