A Look Back at the 2022 Genes in Space Experiment
In June of 2023, Genes in Space winner Pristine Onuoha's experiment was launched aboard CRS-28. A month later, it was conducted in a series of 3 runs by NASA astronauts Frank Rubio and Steve Bowen, and Emirati astronaut Sultan El Neyadi.
The research project tests a novel technique to measure the lengths of telomeres and other nucleic acids as a basis for future diagnostic assays. Measuring the length of DNA fragments is an important part of many molecular biology applications, from molecular diagnostics to understanding mechanisms of genetic damage. Onuoha’s inspiration to develop a DNA measuring assay for space stems from the observation that telomeres, genetic structures that protect our chromosomes and shorten with age, have been found to lengthen in space.
It took nearly 10 months to turn Pristine's proposal into reality. A lot of work went into creating the experimental protocol by scientists like Harvard Medical School Graduate Student Ana Karla Cepeda Diaz and members of the miniPCR bio team.
Run 1 of the experiment was conducted by NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, here holding the miniPCR thermal cycler that he used to amplify segments of DNA with a known length. A fluorescence viewer was used to measure the brightness of the DNA that was amplified, which increased with the amount of DNA synthesized through PCR.
Each subsequent run was supported from the ground by Dr. Ally Huang of miniPCR bio. The team had to wake up at 3am to provide guidance to Mission Control and the astronauts, themselves. Dr. Huang played a significant role in developing the protocol for the teams at NASA.
Check out some additional photos below: