Johns Hopkins University's Andrew Feinberg and Lindsay Rizzardi spent four days last month riding NASA's reduced-gravity aircraft to find that genetics experiments might be able to be conducted in zero gravity, Nature News reports.
NASA's so-called 'vomit comet' makes long parabolas to simulate weightlessness, and during their 160 passes, Feinberg and Rizzardi tested whether they could pipet samples and use Oxford Nanopore's MinIon sequencer.
Pipetting, the researchers tell Nature News, was a bit tricky. They tried three methods to find that one using positive displacement pipettes gave the best results, as no air gets in and the tip is small enough that surface tension isn't disrupted. "We didn't know that was going to work," Feinberg says, "but it works great."
In addition, they were able to successfully sequence DNA using the MinIon during their flights, using samples that had been prepared on the ground.
Feinberg tells Nature News NASA is conducting these tests in part to gauge whether astronauts would be able to sequence their own DNA during long space flights. "I really have to give NASA huge credit in allowing us to do this," he says. "They're very curious people. They really want to know."