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August 31, 2016

A new frontier for genomics

  • Agency
  • Genetics/Genomics

STAT – Astronaut Kate Rubins has successfully sequenced DNA in space, using a hand-held sequencing device called MinION, from Oxford Nanopore Technologies.

The feat was trickier than it might sound because microgravity can wreak havoc with liquid samples. Air bubbles that rise to the top and can be skimmed away with a centrifuge on Earth, for instance, are a lot less predictable in space. To make sure Rubins was getting valid results, researchers on the ground simultaneously sequenced an identical sample.

NASA says the successful experiment opens the door to potentially genetic and epigenetic changes affecting astronauts in orbit — while they're actually still in orbit. It could help diagnose diseases on long space flights and identify mystery microbes growing in the space station.

And it's just plain neat. As Rubins said, "Welcome to systems biology in space."