First DNA Editing in Space with CRISPR CAS9

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Space has been always fascinating for humans. It’s impossible for us to even walk properly on space. But we have done the very first DNA editing in space with CRISPR CAS9 Genome editing. Using the genome editing technology, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have edited the DNA of brewer’s yeast. And that’s a piece of great news.

The astronauts aboard the space station where studying how DNA repair mechanism work in space. The DNA lab up there was designed by the company miniPCR to carry out these experiments. Their goal wasn’t to create any super space yeast. So, they snipped through strands of the fungus’s genetic code in a number of places to mimic radiation damage.

What’s the need for genome editing in space?

We all know that space is a pretty hazardous place due to dangerous radiations. The purpose of the lab established in space aboard ISS was to understand if DNA repair method is different in space than on Earth. Since the damage actually happens on the space station, so they thought of carrying out experiments on space.

The International Space Station (ISS) is protected by Earth’s magnetic field at an average altitude of 408 kilometers (253 miles) in space. When an astronaut is onboard for a period of, let’s say six months, they are subjected to around 30 times the radiation a human receives on Earth within a year. We all know that astronauts onboard ISS are always at risk for radiation sickness due to space radiations. They have a raising long-term risk of cancer, degenerative disease as well as central nervous system problems.

Humans are planning for colonizing planet Mars for more than a decade. Different space agencies like SpaceX, NASA have already started their experiments on this. Scientist and researchers know that the radiation hazard increases when astronauts are on a mission to Mars. Which would be a lot longer than six months spent outside Earth’s protective bubble. So, they are figuring out how DNA repairs itself from radiation damage. That could be incredibly useful. So, astronauts onboard ISS are performing the first DNA editing in space with CRISPR CAS9 genome editing. Which lets scientists slice into DNA code with the equivalent of a molecular scalpel.

How the idea for space experiment started

Genes in Space - first DNA editing in space with CRISPR CAS9
From left to right, David Li, Aarthi Vijayakumar, Deniz Atabay, Guy Bushkin, Michelle Sung, and Rebecca Li

David Li, Aarthi Vijayakumar, Rebecca Li, and Michelle Sung are the students, as part of NASA’s Genes in Space contest. They first proposed the idea for this experiment. The goal of their experimental design was to introduce breaks into both DNA strands of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. To imitate potential radiation damage to the organism. NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague carried out the experiment, successfully editing the genome on International Space Station. Then, they left the yeast to repair the damage done to its DNA.

By comparing the molecular structure of the yeast’s DNA before and after this damage-repair cycle would allow scientists to observe if there were any changes in the molecular structure. Indicating whether the DNA repair introduced any genetic errors. The DNA was copied multiple times in the miniPCR thermal cycler machine using the process called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), to run the comparisons.

Also Read: Can we perform surgery in space?

For now, it joins the exciting list of genetics tools that can be used in space. Since the results are yet to be reported in a published paper. A milestone was achieved when we first performed gene sequencing, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) as well as RNA sequencing in 2016. One thing the experiment tells us is yes, we can do these experiments in space. Ultimately, we can protect our astronauts from DNA damage. Caused by cosmic radiation on long voyages by the knowledge of genome editing in space.

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