Space-3 team identifies microbes in space

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have managed to find and identify microbes aboard the station for the first time.
By Joseph Scalise | Jan 03, 2018
The Space-3 team has completed the first-ever sample-to-sequence process entirely aboard the International Space Station, according to new research outlined in Scientific Reports.

Scientists conducted the new study in two parts. First they collected microbial samples, and then they sequenced and identified all of the microbes within those samples. The experiment happened aboard the station, while a group of researchers watched and guided from Houston.

To gather the microbes, the astronauts touched petri plates to various surfaces in the space station. The cells were then transferred from growing bacterial colonies to miniature test tubes, a process never before conducted in space.

After that, scientists isolated the DNA and prepared it for both sequencing and identification. Finally, they used a MinION device to sequence and the amplified DNA before sending the data to Houston for analysis and identification.

"Once we actually got the data on the ground we were able to turn it around and start analyzing it," said study co-author Aaron Burton, a biochemist at NASA, according to "You get all these squiggle plots and you have to turn that into As, Gs, Cs and Ts."

That process enabled researchers to identify different microorganisms that are common aboard the International Space Station. Once the astronauts returned to Earth, the ground team confirmed the findings by running multiple tasks to test for accuracy. Each follow up trial got the same results as the first.

The study is the first time researchers combinedBiomolecule Sequencer withPolymerase Chain Reaction. The two investigations worked well together and could be the back bone for future identification.

"It was a natural collaboration to put these two pieces of technology together because individually, they're both great, but together they enable extremely powerful molecular biology applications," said lead authorSarah Wallace, a research at NASA, in a statement.

This new method is important for the future of space travel. Being able to identify microbes aboard the station without having to send them down to Earth for identification would be a huge step for both microbiology and space exploration. That is because it would allow astronauts to identify and treat ailments in real time. It could also assist in the identification of DNA-based life on other planets and aid future experiments aboard the orbiting laboratory.


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