Alien microbes successfully identified by International Space Station astronauts

01 January 2018, 06:19 PM
Alien microbes successfully identified by International Space Station astronauts (Photo Courtesy: PTI)
Alien microbes successfully identified by International Space Station astronauts (Photo Courtesy: PTI)

An atypical study led by a group of astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time has identified microbes in space without having to samples back to Earth for tests.

The invention will further help in diagnosing and treating astronaut ailments in real time, as well as assisting in the identification of DNA-based life on other planets.

It is also expected to benefit several other experiments aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Identifying microbes involves isolating the DNA of samples, and then amplifying or making many copies of that DNA that can then be sequenced, or identified.

The investigation was broken into two parts: the collection of the microbial samples and amplification by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), then sequencing and identification of the microbes.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson conducted the experiment aboard the orbiting laboratory, with NASA microbiologist and the projects Principal Investigator Sarah Wallace and her team watching and guiding her from the US.

Also Read: Giant Pacific Octopus discovered by scientists off the coast of Alaska

As part of regular microbial monitoring, Petri plates were touched to various surfaces of the space station.Working within the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) about a week later, Whitson transferred cells from growing bacterial colonies on those plates into miniature test tubes, something that had never been done before in space.

Once the cells were successfully collected, it was time to isolate the DNA and prepare it for sequencing, enabling the identification of the unknown organisms - another first for space microbiology.

The MinION device was used to sequence the amplified DNA. The data were downlinked to the team in Houston for analysis and identification.

Talking about their latest findings Aaron Burton, NASA biochemist said, "Once we actually got the data on the ground we were able to turn it around and start analysing it."

The samples were returned to Earth soon after. Biochemical and sequencing tests were completed in ground labs to confirm the findings from the space station.

Also Read: 150 million-year-old fossilized remains of sea reptile discovered in Antarctica: Scientists

Researchers ran tests multiple times to confirm accuracy. Each time, the results were exactly the same on the ground as in orbit.

(With PTI inputs)

First Published: Monday, January 01, 2018 06:01 PM
For all the latest Science News Download the News Nation App available on Android and iOS.