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Sometimes NASA Has Technology SpinINs (Updated)

By Keith Cowing
March 13, 2016
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Sometimes NASA Has Technology SpinINs (Updated)

Sequencing DNA in Space, NASA/SpaceRef
“NASA is not often known for making the best use of existing COTS (commercial off the shelf technology) abord the ISS. There’s usually quite a lag time. The reasons range from slogging through the often cumbersome payload safety and integration process to people at NASA who are simply not up to date with what the real world is doing in their field. In this instance a rather remarkable gizmo is being flown in space that truly puts genetic sequencing in the palm of your hand. Indeed, its almost as if NASA was flying part of a version 1.0 Tricorder in space.”
Keith’s note: This article is an original NASA.gov posting enhanced with additional illustrations and reference links. I have sent NASA the following request for additional information. “This is very cool stuff and using the MinION DNA sequencer is a paradigm shifting move on NASA’s part. This technology has applicability not only to crew health/safety and life support but also advanced technology development and astrobiology (life detection/characterization). Can you provide me with pictures of the actual flight hardware that NASA will be flying to ISS? Can you also tell me when this device will be activated and specifically what organisms you intend to sequence? When will results from this investigation be published – and where will they be published? Will interim results prior to the completion of the investigation be released – and if so when/where will they be released? Is CASIS involved in this activity? Is the NASA Astrobiology Institute involved?”
Meanwhile CASIS has a competing system “Genes in Space” to do genomics on orbit using minipcr proprietary technology. As best I can tell (and I have asked for more information) the NASA JSC minIOn and CASIS minipcr based efforts are separate. They make no mention of each other. The NASA Genelab web portal makes no mention of either genomic project. Yet Genelab does have interaction with Twins in Space effort which includes genomics studies. When I asked the Genelab folks at the recent American Society for Gravitational and Space Research meeting why NASA’s various genomics projects are not coordinated no one had an answer. And NASA’s Astrobiology Institute (which has a great interest in genomics) has zero interactions – at least none that have been made public. More stove piping at NASA.
Keith’s update: I got very informative responses to my inquiry from Aaron Burton at the NASA JSC Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division and from Sarah Castro, NASA JSC Biomedical Research and Environmental Sciences Division. Check the article link for those updates. Cool stuff. These folks are clearly appreciative of what this technology has to offer. They’re also using minipcr which complements the CASIS work.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.