NanoRacks-Singapore American School-Analyzing Effectiveness of Melanin in Enhancing E. coli Growth (NanoRacks-SAS-Melanin-Containing E. coli Growth) - 08.02.17

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NanoRacks-Singapore American School-Analyzing Effectiveness of Melanin in Enhancing E. coli Growth (NanoRacks-SAS-Melanin-Containing E. coli Growth) investigates whether protective pigments enhance microbial growth in the high radiation environment of space. The experiment uses special protein tags and automated photographic equipment to monitor the growth of a special bacterial strain that contains high levels of melanin, a common pigment that protects from radiation and other types of stress. The bacterial colonies are grown in a specialized biological containment device aboard the International Space Station so that their growth can be compared with control groups back on Earth.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

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


Principal Investigator(s)
Singapore American School , Singapore American School, Singapore

Barton Millar, Singapore American School, Singapore

Valley Christian High School , San Jose , CA, United States
NanoRacks, LLC, Webster, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory Education (NLE)

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
April 2017 - September 2017

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • NanoRacks-Singapore American School-Analyzing Effectiveness of Melanin in Enhancing E. coli Growth (NanoRacks-SAS-Melanin-Containing E. coli Growth) determines whether melanin reduces the harmful effect of radiation on biological life.
  • The results concluded from NanoRacks-SAS-Melanin-Containing E. coli Growth may lead to discoveries relating to the connection between melanin levels and the survivability of microorganisms, and even other life forms, including humans, in space. This is beneficial to the possibility of future long-term space flights.


Several scientific studies in space consisting of bacteria have been impeded by the effects of radiation on deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Because of the microgravity in space, types of radiation are more deleterious. Melanin is a pigment present in almost all mammalians cells, and provides protection for DNA from radiation. Recently, oncologists have been able to point to a positive correlation between higher amounts of melanin in the human skin and reduced rates of skin cancer. Melanin protects the DNA in cells from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation and prevents undesired mutations in DNA strands.
NanoRacks-Singapore American School-Analyzing Effectiveness of Melanin in Enhancing E. coli Growth (NanoRacks-SAS-Melanin-Containing E. coli Growth) requires inducing synthetic melanin into a strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. The bacteria are cultured in agar and placed into the microlab. In order to detect bacterial growth, the bacteria are genetically engineered with a green fluorescent protein. This is documented with a camera under blacklight with the camera taking pictures twice every hour, which allows bacterial colonies to be detected by cameras placed in the microlab. The blacklight light-emitting diodes (LEDs) placed in the microlab correspond to a wavelength specific to the protein, allowing for the observation of the bacteria’s fluorescence. The data collected regarding bacterial growth is compared to the data collected from a control group on Earth, and also to past data from experiments measuring the growth of unmodified E. coli on the International Space Station (ISS). This greatly increases the quality and effectiveness of the experimental design and provides the team with valuable insight on whether increased production of melanin positively affects survival in space and microgravity.
Two miniature peristaltic pumps (RP-Q1 from Takasago Electric Japan delivered through Monotaro Singapore) are used to deliver the broth (for one section of the capsule, this broth contains melanin) into the chamber. The observation chamber containing the bacteria has a maximum volume of approximately 2.16 mL total.

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Space Applications

NanoRacks-SAS-Melanin-Containing E. coli Growth tests a strategy for protecting living cells from radiation damage in space. Results from this research could develop into further bioengineering strategies for protecting plants and animals, including humans, during long-term space travel or any operations outside the magnetosphere.

Earth Applications

NanoRacks-SAS-Melanin-Containing E. coli Growth advances understanding of how genetic engineering can reduce radiation risk. The project also advances Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education goals by including high school student participation in the research. Teaching students through space-related tasks demonstrates how STEM career paths can solve real-world problems.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
The NanoRacks Black Box is completely autonomous and only requires installation and removal. During actual operation, photographic data is sent to the investigators to track the progress of the experiment (about 16 VGA quality photographs along with environmental data – humidity and temperature). The payload chamber needs to be returned to the researchers so its contents can be examined. Crew interaction with NanoRacks Black Box is limited to transferring from the launch vehicle to the ISS.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

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Related Websites

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