Genes in Space-1 (Genes in Space-1) - 02.06.19

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Spaceflight causes many changes to the human body, including alterations in DNA and a weakened immune system. Understanding whether these two processes are linked is important for safeguarding crew health, but DNA technology that can track these changes is relatively untested in space. The Genes in Space-1 investigation, a winning student-designed experiment, is designed to test whether the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can be used to study DNA alterations aboard the ISS.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by David SCOTT Copeland, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: Genes in Space-1

Principal Investigator(s)
Anna Sophia Boguraev, Fox Lane High School, Mt Kisco, NY, United States
Holly C. Christensen, Ph.D., Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, United States
Ashley R. Bonneau, Ph.D., Department of Genetics, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, United States

Sebastian Kraves, Ph.D., Amplyus, Cambridge, MA, United States
Ezequiel Alvarez Saavedra, Ph.D., Amplyus, Cambridge, MA, United States
Antonio Giraldez, Ph.D., Yale University, New Haven, CT, United States
David SCOTT Copeland, The Boeing Company, Pasadena, TX, United States

Boeing, Houston, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory (NL)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2016 - September 2016

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Phase 1 Science of Genes in Space-1 involves using the DNA test sample to prove the operability and performance of the miniPCR.
  • The DNA test sample allows for baseline data collection of DNA replication in microgravity.
  • Phase 2 Science involves the winning student proposal from the first Genes in Space Competition.
  • The goal is to establish if bisulfite conversion followed by PCR can be used to detect changes in DNA methylation in microgravity.


In space, the human immune system’s function is altered, resulting in a decreased response to extracellular pathogens and a decreased ratio of interferon gamma to interleukin 10 produced by T-helper cells. Previous research has shown that spaceflight can cause epigenetic changes in DNA, raising the possibility that epigenetic changes triggered by the space environment may be altering the established differentiation process of immune cells and causing the altered immune response observed in astronauts.
Epigenetic regulation refers to biological mechanisms in which DNA, RNA, and proteins are chemically or structurally modified, without changing their primary sequence. DNA can be modified by methylation of cytosine bases, particularly cytosines preceding guanines (CpG dinucleotides), by enzymes called DNA methyltransferases. DNA methylation generally functions to repress gene expression, and is important for the regulation of cellular differentiation and development. When epigenetic mechanisms are misregulated, the result can be detrimental to health and can lead to cancer, neurological disorders, and developmental abnormalities.
The “gold standard” to determine whether DNA is methylated is bisulfite conversion. Bisulfite conversion, also known as bisulfite treatment, is used to deaminate non-methylated Cytosine to produce Uracil in DNA. Methylated cytosines (5-methylcytosines) are protected from the conversion to uracil, allowing the use of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and sequencing, to assess DNA methylation status.
The goal of the Genes in Space-1 experiment is to establish whether bisulfite treatment followed by the use of methylation-specific primers during PCR can be used to detect changes in DNA methylation in microgravity. An assay to evaluate epigenetic changes would aid in the understanding of the effects of spaceflight on the epigenome, and more specifically, may allow for the detection of immune system alterations that could lead to increased susceptibility to autoimmune disease, allergies and other diseases. NASA’s planned long-term space missions, in which astronauts need to monitor and preserve their health, highlight the importance of developing such capabilities.

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Space Applications
Previous research has shown spaceflight can cause epigenetic changes in DNA which can have physiological consequences. This Genes in Space-1 project aims to study whether such epigenetic changes can be detected directly in space, which would allow studies to determine whether these changes affect the development and effectiveness of immune cells. Epigenetic changes are structural modifications to DNA, RNA, and proteins whose overall sequence remains the same. Scientists use certain chemicals to determine whether these epigenetic changes are taking place. The Genes in Space-1 investigation studies whether these epigenetic changes can be detected using traditional PCR technology on the International Space Station (ISS). Using these methods in space would enable scientists to study epigenetic changes that happen during spaceflight, enhancing research and improving methods for monitoring crew members’ health.

Earth Applications
Genes in Space is an innovation challenge including students and teachers across the United States from grades 7 through 12. Students design a pioneering DNA-related experiment to fly on the ISS, providing real-world training in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and connecting students to the space program. Results from this investigation also benefit efforts to use PCR technology to study epigenetic changes and how they affect the human immune system.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

The samples require late loading into cold stowage, and need to remain in cold stowage until ready for thawing immediately prior to operations. The samples must return to Cold Stowage after operations, and remain in Cold Stowage through return to Earth.

The science is divided into two phases. In the first phase, the first sample serves as a test DNA sample to prove operations, and provide a baseline of miniPCR performance in microgravity. The second phase involves operations with the samples required to support the winning Genes in Space student experiment proposal. Samples are prepared in a lab at the launch site. Samples are placed in Cold Stowage for launch. Samples are transferred into Cold Stowage assets on orbit where they remain until they are thawed immediately prior to operations. The samples are placed in the miniPCR. Following completion of the miniPCR protocol and the cooling of the hardware, the sample is removed and placed in Cold Stowage for return to Earth.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Results Publications

    Boguraev A, Christensen HC, Bonneau AR, Pezza JA, Nichols NM, Giraldez AJ, Gray MM, Wagner BM, Aken JT, Foley KD, Copeland DS, Kraves S, Alvarez Saavedra E.  Successful amplification of DNA aboard the International Space Station. npj Microgravity. 2017 November 16; 3(1): 26 pp. DOI: 10.1038/s41526-017-0033-9. PMID: 29167819. [CASIS]

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

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Related Websites
Genes in Space competition website

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