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Using A Tricorder To Sequence DNA In Space

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
August 30, 2016
Filed under ,
Using A Tricorder To Sequence DNA In Space

First DNA Sequencing Conducted in Space, NASA
“For the first time ever, DNA was successfully sequenced in microgravity as part of the Biomolecule Sequencer experiment performed by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins this weekend aboard the International Space Station. The ability to sequence the DNA of living organisms in space opens a whole new world of scientific and medical possibilities. Scientists consider it a game changer.”
In Depth Look: Sequencing DNA in Space, SpaceRef
“NASA is not often known for making the best use of existing COTS (commercial off the shelf technology) aboard the ISS. Then again, sometimes they are. This is an example of when the agency really grabs cutting edge biotech and sends it into space. 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 ral 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. This is cutting edge technology folks.”
Keith’s note: Of course, do you see any mention of this groundbreaking accomplishment inside the ISS National Laboratory on the CASIS website? Of course not. But the NASA ISS National Lab webpage and mention it. CASIS seems to be totally unaware of what is going inside the facility it is supposed to manage. More on that in the weeks ahead.

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

4 responses to “Using A Tricorder To Sequence DNA In Space”

  1. Brian_M2525 says:

    Excuse me for not being informed about biological science, but I’ve not seen a clear description of what was done or why it is important. It sounds from the description here that the astronaut used off-the-shelf hardware to do something in space that is done routinely on the ground. I’m not sure why it is important on the ground or in space. Why was it important? What did it prove? How might it be used in the future? What was the purpose and what is the value? Why was it a groundbreaking accomplishment?

  2. Bob Mahoney says:


    (a) It has become a basic tool of biological research.

    (b) Demonstrating that it can be done in zero-g opens the door to having this tool available on the ISS where biological investigations are conducted

    (c) Gravity or lack thereof may affect the process in specific ways and so reveal more about the process.

    Or so I understand it. I may be way off.

    • Brian_M2525 says:

      Thanks for the info.

      According to the NIH website, we’ve had the capability to do this on the ground since 2003, and laboratories all over the world process 100s of thousands, millions total, every year. So maybe the device we used in orbit is new? or maybe we did it for the first time in zero-G?, but the science and routine use seems to be pretty rudimentary. There is an entire NIH research institute devoted to it.

      Now maybe for the first time we have the capability in orbit? If it is that important, why didn’t ISS have it years ago? The real question to me, is, where can I go to find out what sorts of facilities and capabilities ISS offers? Is this ‘tricorder’ now a standard device and service or was its use just an experiment?

      NASA has books that tell about ISS systems, which is nice but I kind of assume astronauts are up there, they are breathing, doing things people normally do. If I am a researcher, its not particularly useful information. I dont particularly care that they have 75 kW of electricity being produced. I care how much I can get,and at what voltage and with what kind of plug to connect. Its nice that every country provides its own lab module, but do I really care? When I go to the NIH I dont ask them how many buildings they have and whats the cubic footage of each. I am sure that is fascinating for someone, but not to me as a researcher. What kind of box do I need to build to be able to fly? Where is that info? ISS has a lot of books and videos telling me what kind of wonderful research is being done (I question this because wonderful research is usually the subject of the researcher’s peer reviewed science papers, maybe these books are just PR?) . But I have not found anything that tells me what science facilities ISS offers or how I get science onboard. Seems like for a research institute, especially if they are looking for viable customers, they are passing out the wrong kind of information.

      • Bob Mahoney says:

        The NHGRI is not devoted solely to developing this technology; their purview is studying the human genome. They have pushed the tech and they use it…a lot.

        My understanding is that the novelty here is that the sequencing technology is being used/tested in zero-g for the first time. Check out (https://www.technologyrevie… from 2014 that touts the introduction of the 3rd-generation sequencing technology. That’s a pretty fast turnaround, as the other articles noted.

        I have no issue with your other observations. NASA Public Affairs (PAO) in all of its manifestations has long had difficulty communicating substantive content to the public and they continue to pump out volumes of bland, typically useless trivia aimed at trying (but failing) to wow their audience without ever really telling any effective, engaging stories. I addressed this a number of years ago (http://www.thespacereview.c… while they have changed some in the intervening years they have a looonnnggg way to go. Perhaps when the current generation passes away; some there seem to have a mindset frozen in the 1970s…not that it worked any better back then, either.