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Sequencing Goes to Space

Virologist Kate Rubins from the Whitehead Institute is to blast into space this summer where she will oversee some 250 experiments at the International Space Station, including one examining how to pull off sequencing DNA in microgravity, Scientific American reports.

Rubins notes that small portable sequencers that would be used in space are akin to the ones that would be used in the field during a disease outbreak. "The kind of technology they use in a remote field medical center is the same kind of technology you'd probably start designing for an instrument on Mars or deep-space exploration," she says. "The really critical question for NASA is whether these devices can detect signatures of life in the universe."

The first part of the sequencing experiment is to see how the equipment and sequencing reactions fare in space and if they even work without gravity, she says. The second part, Rubins says, would then to see what happens to DNA in space in real time. They'd then be able to examine, for instance, where epigenetic changes occur in response to radiation exposure or sleep disruptions, she adds.

Whether or not she'll be the first to sequence in space, though, comes down to timing, she tell Scientific American. Rubins will be at the ISS for about four months.