Unknown microbes identifiied in space

  • Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have for the first time identified microbes in space without having to samples back to Earth for tests.
  • The ability to identify microbes in space could aid in the ability to diagnose and treat astronaut ailments in real time, as well as assisting in the identification of DNA-based life on other planets.
  • It could also benefit other experiments aboard the orbiting laboratory.
  • Identifying microbes involves isolating the DNA of samples, and then amplifying or making many copies of that DNA that can then be sequenced, or identified.
  • The investigation was broken into two parts: the collection of the microbial samples and amplification by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), then sequencing and identification of the microbes.
  • NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson conducted the experiment aboard the orbiting laboratory, with NASA microbiologist and the project’s Principal Investigator Sarah Wallace and her team watching and guiding her from the U.S.
  • Once the cells were successfully collected, it was time to isolate the DNA and prepare it for sequencing, enabling the identification of the unknown organisms – another first for space microbiology.
  • The MinION device was used to sequence the amplified DNA.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a technique used in molecular biology to amplify a single copy or a few copies of a segment of DNAacross several orders of magnitude, generating thousands to millions of copies of a particular DNA sequence.


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