Astronauts at NASA successfully sequenced the DNA of microbes found in the International Space Station (ISS), making it the first time any unknown micro-organisms to be identified and sequenced in the outer space.
Earlier, microbes had been sent to Earth for analysis. The new step of sequencing will help in diagnosing astronaut illness and also to identify any DNA-based life found on other planets, said the officials of NASA in a statement.
The researchers on Earth have found these identifications to be correct and the experiment to be success.
As a part of Genes in Space-3 mission, astronauts on the ISS touched a petri dish to surfaces and grew the bacteria into colonies in 2016, which NASA’s Peggy Whitson amplified and then sequenced.
In July 2016, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins became the first to sequence DNA in space. But this experiment is the first time cells were transferred for analysis and the first time unknown microbes were identified in space.
While Whitson was preparing to sequence the DNA, Hurricane Harvey intervened.
Sarah Wallace, one of the microbiologist in the mission and guiding Whitson in the sequencing, said, “We started hearing the reports of Hurricane Harvey the week in between Peggy performing the first part of collecting the sample and gearing up for the actual sequencing.”
Finally, Wallace and Whitson were connected by the Payload Operations Integration Centre at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama and Wallace’s personal phone, and then she guided Whitson to sequence the DNA before sending the data.
Wallace said, “During analysis, right away, we saw one microorganism pop up, and then a second one, and they were things that we find all the time on the space station. The validation of these results would be when we got the sample back to test on Earth.”
Whitson, along with the samples, came back to Earth in September 2017, when the next phase of the Genes in Space-3 mission began.
Recently, astronauts had amplified DNA for analysis on the space station using a device called the miniPCR thermal cycler and they had sequenced a DNA sample with a MinION device, but they had successfully combined the two at last, said the NASA officials.
Wallace said, “It was a natural collaboration to put these two pieces of technology together, because individually, they're both great but together, they enable extremely powerful molecular biology applications.”