For the first time, astronauts have used CRISPR/Cas9 technology to edit DNA in space — and Mounds View High School students were part of it. 

This Genes in Space study represents the first demonstration of genetic modification of living organisms in space, a crucial milestone in the development of complete molecular biology workflows on orbit.

The study is the fruit of a multi-center collaboration between scientists and engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, miniPCR Bio, and Boeing. The study was designed by Mounds View High School students Rebecca Li, Michelle Sung and Aarthi Vijayakumar, and Woodbury High School alum David Li. The team won the 2018 Genes in Space contest. NASA microbiologists Sarah Wallace and Sarah Stahl helped the team develop their idea and ready their experiment for spaceflight, and astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague executed the experiment aboard the International Space Station (ISS)

The gene editing technique was deployed on ISS to induce targeted breaks in the yeast genome. Molecular changes left behind as yeast repair these breaks will provide clues about how cells repair their DNA in space. 

The CRISPR-induced DNA lesions are intended to mimic genetic damage caused by cosmic radiation, a serious risk facing space travelers. Though cells have means of correcting DNA damage, errors in the repair process can lead to negative health consequences, including cancer. Understanding how DNA repair mechanisms function in space will support the development of better safeguards for space explorers.

CRISPR/Cas9 joins a growing portfolio of molecular biology techniques available on the ISS National Lab, an expansion due in part to the multi-year collaboration between NASA’s Johnson Space Center and the Genes in Space program. 

The student program is a national STEM contest that challenges seventh through 12th graders to design DNA analysis experiments using the ISS National Lab. For more information visit GenesInSpace.org.

 

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