A Space Sequence Saga | TS Digest | Space

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NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins was the first person to sequence DNA in space. She uses a Microgravity Science Glovebox, which provides a sealed environment for experiments on the ISS. Credit NASA.

NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins trained as a biologist and led a lab group at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research studying the genomics of infectious disease. In 2009, when an opportunity arose, she applied to be an astronaut and has never looked back. In 2016, Rubins became the first person to sequence DNA in space.1

Why did you want to test sequencing in space?

We really wanted to sequence since it is such a powerful technology with applications in both human health and research studies. For instance, for spacecraft environmental monitoring, we take swabs, put them on culture plates, send them back to land, and ship them to a lab for standard culture-based methods. The point that we start interrogating a sample to the point that we get the answer could be up to two weeks. In the meantime, we have people living inside the closed environment of the spacecraft, so it is a big risk. If we can sequence, we have a quick and dirty way of taking a census of any microbes of concern.

What kind of biology experiments in space excite you?

The nice thing about doing experiments in microgravity is that the cells do not settle to the bottoms of the dishes. We can build structures and have the cells grow on them or culture them free floating in vessels. This has applications for building up tissues. Some people are thinking about bioprinting on board; some are looking into how cells interact with each other. Cytoskeleton work is probably super interesting without gravity. There are a lot of basic science related interesting questions about what happens to biological systems without gravity that we can address in space and then bring the answers back to applications on Earth.


  1. Castro-Wallace, S.L., et al. Sci Rep. 2017; 7: 18022.

read more www.the-scientist.com

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