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.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, contains the instructions each cell in an organism on Earth needs to live. These instructions are represented by the letters A, G, C and T, which stand for the four chemical bases of DNA, adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. Both the number and arrangement of these bases differ among organisms, so their order, or sequence, can be used to identify a specific organism.
The Biomolecule Sequencer investigation moved us closer to this ability to sequence DNA in space by demonstrating, for the first time, that DNA sequencing is possible in an orbiting spacecraft.
With a way to sequence DNA in space, astronauts could diagnose an illness, or identify microbes growing in the International Space Station and determine whether or not they represent a health threat. A space-based DNA sequencer would be an important tool to help protect astronaut health during long duration missions on the journey to Mars, and future explorers could also potentially use the technology to identify DNA-based life forms beyond Earth.