30 June 2021

Astronauts on board International Space Station demonstrate genome editing

30 June 2021

Astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS) have demonstrated a new method for studying how cells repair damaged DNA in space.

Researchers have developed a new method for studying DNA repair in yeast cells that can be conducted entirely in space.

The technique uses CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology which can be used to change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision.

The method is used to create precise damage to DNA strands so repair mechanisms can then be observed in better detail than would be possible with non-specific damage via radiation or other causes.

These developments fill this team with hope in humanity's renewed quest to explore and inhabit the vast expanse of space

It focuses on a particularly harmful type of DNA damage known as a double-strand break.

Researchers successfully demonstrated the viability of the method in yeast cells aboard the International Space Station.

It is hoped the technique will now enable extensive research into DNA repair in space.

The study, published in the PLOS One journal, marks the first time CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing has successfully been conducted in space.

It is also the first time in space that live cells have undergone successful transformation—incorporation of genetic material originating from outside the organism.

Senior author Sebastian Kraves, said: “It’s not just that the team successfully deployed novel technologies like CRISPR genome editing, PCR, and nanopore sequencing in an extreme environment, but also that we were able to integrate them into a functionally complete biotechnology workflow applicable to the study of DNA repair and other fundamental cellular processes in microgravity.

“These developments fill this team with hope in humanity’s renewed quest to explore and inhabit the vast expanse of space.”

First author Sarah Stahl Rommel added: “Being a part of Genes in Space-6 has been a highlight of my career.

“I saw first-hand just how much can be accomplished when the ideas of innovative students are supported by the best from academia, industry and Nasa.

“The expertise of the team resulted in the ability to perform high-quality, complex science beyond the bounds of Earth.

“I hope this impactful collaboration continues to show students and senior researchers alike what is possible onboard our laboratory in space.”

Damage to an organism’s DNA can occur during normal biological processes or as a result of environmental causes, such as UV light.

While cells have several different natural strategies of repairing damaged DNA, in humans and other animals damage can lead to cancer.

Astronauts travelling outside the Earth’s atmosphere face increased risk of DNA damage due to the ionizing radiation that penetrates space.

Therefore, what DNA repair strategies the body employs in space may be important.

Previous research suggests microgravity conditions may influence this choice, raising concerns repair might not be adequate, but investigation into this has been limited.

Future research could refine the new method to better mimic the complex DNA damage caused by ionizing radiation.

Researchers say the technique could also serve as a foundation for investigations into numerous other molecular biology topics related to long-term space exposure and exploration.

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