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Astronauts to Test Viability of Sequencing in Space

by | Jun 6, 2016 | Clinical Diagnostics Insider, Diagnostic Testing and Emerging Technologies, Top of the News-dtet

From - Diagnostic Testing & Emerging Technologies Astronauts will soon conduct DNA sequencing in space. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Biomolecule Sequencer investigation will… . . . read more

By Lori Solomon, Editor, Diagnostic Testing & Emerging Technologies

Astronauts will soon conduct DNA sequencing in space. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Biomolecule Sequencer investigation will assess whether DNA sequencing is feasible in an orbiting, microgravity environment. The agency says that in-flight microbial identification could aid environmental monitoring, human health-related research, and astrobiology—the search for life in space.

The MinION sequencer (Oxford Nanopore Technologies; United Kingdom) is set to launch June 24 aboard the Soyuz MS-01 (from Kazakhstan) for the International Space Station (ISS). Currently, ISS lacks molecular biology capabilities and samples both of microbe monitoring and astronaut DNA are tested in laboratories at NASA. But there is great interest in rapid, low-cost means for in-flight microbial monitoring.

“Crew members on ISS frequently participate in DNA testing, but these tests require collecting samples and sending them back to Earth to be analyzed,” writes Aaron Burton, Ph.D., the principal investigator of the Biomolecule Sequencer experiment on NASA’s webpage ISS Science for Everyone. “The sequencer could greatly improve scientific research on the ISS through advancements in microbe identification, disease diagnostics, and collection of real-time genomic data. Spaceflight-compatible DNA sequencing technology can also be integrated into astrobiology-based exploration missions.”

DNA will be sequenced in space using the nanopore technology-based platform the MinION (Oxford Nanopore Technologies; United Kingdom). The device going to space is non-modified, “commercial off the shelf technology.” The portable sequencer is powered though a connection to a laptop or tablet. The device has been tested for field use, including for Ebola investigations in West Africa in 2015. Burton, from NASA Johnson Space Center (Houston) tells SpaceRef that since the flow cells are best when used within 60 days of production, the sequencing will likely be conducted “in the June to August timeframe, and the data should hopefully be back on Earth a few days after each sample run.”

During the experiments, crew members will sequence lambda bacteriophage, which is Oxford Nanopore’s characterization standard for sequencer performance. The samples, prepared on Earth, will also include known genomic elements from E. coli and mouse DNA. In space, the experiments will be among 250 conducted by Kate Rubins, Ph.D., a virologist turned astronaut.

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