Genes in Space-5 (Genes in Space-5) - 01.10.19

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

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Genes in Space-5 uses deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) amplification technology to further understand microgravity’s effects on the human body. With two different experiments, the Genes in Space-5 investigation seeks to utilize DNA-based technologies in assays that may ultimately assess the health of astronauts; the first one to interrogate immune system status and the second one as an indicator of increased cancer risk.
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-5

Principal Investigator(s)
Elizabeth Reizis, Amplyus, Cambridge, MA, United States
Sophia Chen, Amplyus, Cambridge, MA, United States

Ezequiel Alvarez Saavedra, Ph.D., Amplyus, Cambridge, MA, United States
Emily Gleason, Ph.D., Amplyus, Cambridge, MA, United States
Sebastian Kraves, Ph.D., Amplyus, Cambridge, MA, United States
Diana Cai, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, United States
John Hatch, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, United States
Nicole Nichols, Ph.D., Amplyus, Ipswich, MA, United States
Ashley Luck, Ph.D., Amplyus, Ipswich, MA, 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 Education (NLE)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
February 2018 - October 2018

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) analysis using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is central to biomedicine and biomedical research on Earth.
  • Genes in Space-5 aims to further the use of this technology in space.
  • Prolonged space travel is thought to adversely affect the immune system.
  • Impaired development of key immune cells called T-cells often underlie immune deficiencies, and may be measured by a specific DNA-based assay called T-cell receptor excision circle (TREC) analysis.
  • Exposure to increased radiation during space travel may increase mutation rates in DNA, resulting in genomic instability.
  • The first goal of Genes in Space-5 is to determine whether changes in T-cell development may be monitored in space using an assay based on DNA amplification of peripheral blood.
  • A second specific goal of Genes in Space-5 is to test feasibility of a DNA-based assay to test for genomic instability.
  • To achieve both goals, Genes in Space-5 utilizes simultaneous (multiplex) DNA amplification from multiple genomic sites in a single reaction tube.
  • Enabling analysis of multiple genetic markers in a single reaction may simplify future DNA diagnostic applications in space.


The Genes in Space-5 investigation consists of two Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) based assays that use multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to monitor genome stability and T-cell (a subtype of white blood cell) development.
Evidence of increased DNA damage after exposure to the space environment suggests crew members might accumulate mutations at a higher rate than humans on Earth, which may be detrimental to overall health and lead to a higher incidence of cancer. Genomic instability may be manifested as a range of DNA lesions, from small but significant changes in nucleic acid sequences to large alterations affecting entire chromosomes. One form of genomic instability, microsatellite instability, is characterized by changes in the number of tandemly repeated sequences that make up the microsatellite loci. Hence, the study of variations in the size of microsatellites is commonly used as a measure of genomic stability. In this first study, investigators attempt to measure five different microsatellite loci in a single tube using multiplex PCR with fluorescent primers for analysis by capillary electrophoresis. A successful experiment establishes proof of concept that a fast, DNA-based assay may be developed to monitor genomic integrity in space.
The second part of the Genes in Space-5 investigation focuses on developing an assay to monitor immune function in space using DNA amplification. T-cells are essential components of the immune system that develop in the thymus, and circulate throughout the body to ensure protection from infections. Impaired development and/or maintenance of T-cells may result in increased risk of viral and bacterial infections. T-cell production in the thymus is measured by detecting specific fragments of DNA that arise during T-cell development, called T-cell receptor excision circles (TRECs). The detection of TRECs in peripheral blood by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is used to understand the rate of T-cell development, screen for genetic defects, and monitor HIV infection. This study aims to recapitulate a PCR-based TREC assay in space, and assays peripheral blood from normal and immunodeficient experimental animals. If successful, the results provide proof of principle that the rate of T-cell development, and any potential impairment that may occur during space travel, are rapidly and safely determined in space.

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Space Applications
The research gathered from Genes in Space-5 may be valuable in the development of procedures to maintain astronaut health and prevent an increased risk of cancer on deep space missions. The ability to monitor genomic instability in space may contribute to creating more accurate assessments of the increased cancer risk associated with exposure to the space environment. Additionally, this investigation aims to provide a proof of principle that potential states of immunodeficiency due to prolonged space travel may be monitored in space.

Earth Applications
The Genes in Space-5 investigation provides a deeper understanding of the human immune system, while giving student researchers a direct connection to the space program and offering hands-on educational experiences on Earth and promoting involvement in STEM fields. Developed through the Genes in Space STEM competition, this innovation challenge is available to students and teachers grades 7 through 12 with an interest in pioneering DNA analysis experiments in microgravity.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
Purified DNA is mixed with the appropriate unmodified or modified oligonucleotides and the additional reagents required for DNA amplification by PCR. Frozen samples are shipped to the launch site for late loading, remaining in cold stowage at all times until operations begin at the ISS. During operations, the astronaut recovers the samples from cold stowage, lets them thaw and places them inside the miniPCR thermal cycler. The miniPCR unit is connected to and programmed through the aboard computer according to parameters optimized on Earth. The unit is left unattended until completion when the astronaut removes the samples and places it in cold stowage for return to ground to complete the analysis. The miniPCR is stowed for later use.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites
Genes in Space Competition

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