The winner of the second Genes in Space competition, Julian Rubinfien, 16, from New York’s Stuyvesant High School, saw his experiments launch to the International Space Station on April 18, 2017 aboard the Orbital ATK OA-7 resupply mission. Included in the payload were two sets of reactions designed toward a better understanding of how space affects the aging process. The experiments tested whether a key chromosomal DNA region, the telomere, can be amplified for evaluation directly in space. The length of telomeric DNA is affected by stress and aging, so the ability to monitor telomere length could be a key contributor to a complete study of astronaut health on long-term missions. Recently, astronaut Scott Kelly was shown to have lengthened telomeres after spending a year on the ISS, highlighting the relevance of Julian’s chosen topic. The first of his experiments was designed using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with reagents from NEB and a portable thermocycler designed by miniPCR. After completion aboard the ISS, these reactions were sent back to Earth aboard SpaceX CRS-11 for analysis.
Julian’s second experiment also targeted telomeric DNA, but, for the first time, allowed astronauts to directly observe results of the reactions on board the ISS. This was accomplished using an innovative colorimetric loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) method from NEB in which the color of the reaction changes upon successful amplification of a DNA or RNA target. Julian’s telomeric LAMP reactions were conducted on May 17 and June 9 2017 aboard the ISS, and in only 30 minutes, astronauts were able to see a successful amplification reaction in space for the first time. Tests like this will enable simple and direct tests for viruses, health markers, or even food and environmental organisms, granting a degree of self-sufficiency needed for life and survival in space. Each Genes in Space mission brings real world scientific experiences to a new group of students and advances capabilities aboard the ISS. While Earth has quite a head start in molecular biology research these projects are quickly bridging the gap and ensuring a bright and healthy future for our astronauts and possibly inspiring the next generation of space scientists.
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