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NASA to Use DNA Sequencing in Space, Potentially for Aliens As Well

Jul 26, 2016 06:23 AM EDT
German Astronaut Alexander Gerst Aboard The International Space Station
The first DNA sequencer has reached the International Space Station during SpaceX's recent resupply mission to space.
(Photo : Alexander Gerst / ESA via Getty Images)

There's no stopping science in conquering space as NASA is set to use the first ever DNA sequencer or a biomolecular sequencer aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The successful cargo delivery of SpaceX to the ISS carried the DNA sequencer into space. The sequencer was sent to space to test its viability of using the machine in an environment beyond Earth. It'll also serve as a pathfinder for the future sequencing projects for deep space explorations involving humans within the Solar System including Mars.

But the DNA sequencer is also being eyed to understand how life came about and potentially for alien life. "Our research was on astrobiology and trying to understand the origins of life. One of the people there talked to one of the inventors of nanopore sequencing, and they were interested in sending one of their sequencers up as a planetary science instrument to Mars in order to search for DNA-based life," Aaron Burton Principal Investigator and astrobiologist said in an interview with NASA

Burton added that scientists were looking at the DNA sequencing technology and its use in a non-Earth environment for years. NASA has been conducting experimentation and planning activities before an actual DNA sequencer was sent to space.

Some noted that this step is a milestone for NASA and the scientists involved in the project when it comes to the understanding of the origin of life. The DNA sequencer will be able to decode and identify microbes and to help check the health of astronauts on the ISS, according to a news report. But of course, it has to be proven to work in a non-Earth environment first before it can perform its technological potential.

Once proven effective in space, the DNA sequencer might also become a tool for detecting and identifying any type of alien life within the Solar System. This device will shorten the time needed in detecting life in space.

The specialized machine has been modified to enable it to work in microgravity. The device is wittingly called a MinION, just 120 grams and is probably lighter than a usual smartphone, according to ExtremeTech. The first stage of the mission is to prove if the device can work in microgravity.

The device is built to detect and be used with varied types of samples, including alien ones that scientists haven't dealt with before.

NASA and the scientists behind the mission are hopeful that the design of the sequencer can be useful in microgravity and that it can provide a ton of data in the future.


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