The results of the project that won the first Genes in Space competition have been published, showing that DNA amplification can be conducted at the International Space Station.
Anna-Sophia Boguraev won the competition in 2015 at age 16 with her proposal to examine how microgravity and cosmic radiation in space affect the immune system. Genes in Space competition, started by Boeing and Amplyus' miniPCR, encourages students to submit project ideas that address a space-exploration problem that could be studied through PCR-based genetic analysis. In 2014, Amplyus' Scott Copeland noted there were no PCR capabilities at ISS — samples had to travel back to Earth — and that the miniPCR's size and cost made it attractive for use in space. Astronauts carried out Boguraev's project on the space station.
As Boguraev, now at Yale University, and her co-authors report in npj Microgravity that they were able to target and amplify gene sequences from plasmid, zebrafish genomic DNA, and bisulfite-treated DNA in microgravity using the miniaturized miniPCR system. Additionally, they report they were able to detect differences in methylation.
This, the researchers say, lays the foundation to be able to monitor astronauts' health in space. As gene sequencers have since been sent to ISS and astronauts have also conducted sequencing experiments at the space station, the researchers add "that a complete sample-to-sequence DNA analysis workflow in space will be plausible in the near future."