Scientists achieved another feat, as ISS astronauts managed to edit DNA with CRISPR in space for the first time in history. The achievement was made on the DNA of brewer’s yeast. The focus of the study was not to come up with an improved species of yeast, but it was to analyze how the DNA repair mechanisms work in space. The results might shed more light on how space travel affects humans in future deep space missions.
“The damage actually happens on the space station, and the analysis also happens in space. We want to understand if DNA repair methods are different in space than on Earth,” explained Emily Gleason, a researcher at miniPCR Bio that is the firm that produced the DNA lab on the International Space Station.
The most significant problem with space travel is the high amount of cosmic radiations that put astronaut’s lives at risk in the long term. The ISS, for its part, is still under the protection of the Earth’s magnetosphere, even though it’s at an altitude of 408 kilometers. However, ISS astronauts are experiencing cosmic radiations over six months in space by 30 times higher than any other human on Earth.
ISS Astronauts Edited DNA Using CRISPR In Space For The First Time
The ISS astronauts used the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing procedure to modify yeast DNA. Students David Li, Aarthi Vijayakumar, Rebecca Li, and Michelle Sung, participants at NASA’s Genes in Space contest, proposed the experiment. The goal of the study was to implement several breaks in the yeast DNA to mimic the effects of the cosmic radiations on the genome.
Christina Koch and Nick Hague, both ISS astronauts from NASA, carried out the experiment. After they edited the DNA with CRISPR, the astronauts left the yeast genomes to repair themselves from the damages introduced. By comparing the initial records on the yeast DNA with the results of the experiment, scientists could study the molecular modifications and notice if genetic errors appeared in the process of DNA repair.
“One thing the investigation will tell us is yes, and we can do these things in space. Ultimately, we can use this knowledge to help protect astronauts from DNA damage caused by cosmic radiation on long voyages and to enable genome editing in space,” Emily Gleason concluded.