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First DNA Sequencing In Space Opens To A New World Of Scientific, Medical Possibilities

First Posted: Aug 31, 2016 05:13 AM EDT
First-ever sequencing of DNA in space, performed by Kate Rubins on the ISS. 128f0462 sequencer 1.jpg
For the first time ever, DNA was sequenced in space as part of the Biomolecule Sequencer investigation on the International Space Station. The sequencing device used is called MinION, and sequencing was performed by ISS astronaut Kathleen (Kate) Rubins. NASA / Wikimedia Commons CC0

The first DNA sequencing in space was performed by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins this weekend aboard the International Space Station. She used a compact DNA device known as MinION that could help astronauts diagnose illness and identify disease-causing microbes on the ISS.

The DNA sequencing performed by Kate Rubins was part of the Biomolecule Sequencer experiment. This investigation enables them to sequence DNA in space for the first time and that sequencing is possible in an orbiting spacecraft.

The Biomolecule Sequencer investigation sent samples of virus, mouse, and bacteria DNA to the space station to examine the DNA sequencing device called MinION in July. MinION was developed by Oxford nanopore Technologies in the UK. It works by sending a positive current in the pores embedded in membranes inside the device, known as nanopores. Then the fluid that contains a DNA sample passes into the device. The individual DNA molecules partially block the nanopores and alter the current in a way that is unique to that certain DNA sequence. The researchers can then recognize the specific DNA sequence by looking at the changes, according to NASA.

DNA or also referred to as deoxyribonucleic acid carries the genetic instructions, which are used in the development, growth, reproduction and functioning of all known living organisms and many viruses. The instructions are characterized by the letters A, C, G and T. These stand for the four chemical bases of DNA, which are adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. Both the number and the composition of these bases differ among organisms. With this, their order or sequence can be used to recognize a specific organism.

The DNA sequencing in space is a significant tool to help protect the health of the astronaut during their long missions on the journey to Mars. The researchers could also potentially use this technology to recognize DNA-based life forms beyond Earth.

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