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Sequencing Among the Stars

NASA has announced that DNA has been sequenced for the first time in microgravity.

"Welcome to systems biology in space," astronaut Kate Rubins, who conducted the experiments onboard the International Space Station, says in a NASA press release.

As part of the space agency's Biomolecule Sequencer project. NASA sent DNA samples from mice, viruses, and bacteria along with Oxford Nanopore Technologies' MinIon to the space station earlier this summer. The agency first tested the sequencing approach they were to use in space at NASA's Extreme Environment Mission Operation base that's underwater off the Florida coast. A lack of gravity, it notes, introduces new problems into the sequencing procedure.

"In space, if an air bubble is introduced, we don't know how it will behave," Aaron Burton, a NASA planetary scientist and principal investigator, says. "Our biggest concern is that it could block the nanopores."

The samples Rubins ran were prepared on the ground for sequencing and will be compared to ones run in full gravity on Earth. So far, NASA says they seem "to match up."

"A next step is to test the entire process in space, including sample preparation as well as performing the sequencing," project manager and NASA microbiologist Sarah Castro-Wallace adds.

Once that's possible, the agency says astronauts will be able to sample their own environment to gauge whether a microbe they found poses a threat or study the effects of microgravity on gene expression or on DNA itself.