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NASA Astronauts Used CRISPR Gene Editing Technology For the First Time in Space

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

The researchers performed the experiments using the new method on yeast cells. This was the first time gene-editing was happening in space.

For human beings, going to space may seem the most exciting thing, but our bodies do not enjoy it that much. Moving out of the earth’s atmosphere means leaving the protective blanket that saves us from ultraviolet radiation among other harmful stuff out there in space. The radiation, as you may guess, causes damage to the human DNA, which could lead to cancer in humans and animals as well. Thankfully, our cells do have natural mechanisms in place to repair the damage. They deploy different strategies depending upon the type of damage.
However, previous research has found that how cells pick a particular repair strategy can be influenced by the microgravity conditions in space. Scientists are concerned that DNA repairs influenced by microgravity conditions may not be adequate, and can lead to harmful consequences.

To study the DNA repair process in space, scientists have developed a new technique that uses CRISPR/Cas9 — a gene-editing technology — to recreate precise damages so that cells can be observed repairing them. The team of researchers led by Sarah Stahl-Rommel has successfully demonstrated the technique and its viability aboard the International Space Station. Rommel works as a microbiologist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The guided experiments were conducted in space by NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Tyler Nicklaus Hague, and David Saint-Jacques.

The researchers performed the experiments using the new method on yeast cells. This was the first time gene-editing was happening in space.

According to Sebastian Kraves, who is the senior author of the research, the research integrates gene-editing techniques in the extreme environment to “functionally complete biotechnology flow” that can be applied for studying other fundamental cell processes as well. “These developments fill this team with hope in humanity’s renewed quest to explore and inhabit the vast expanse of space,” said Kraves in a statement by PLOS. The study was published in PLOS ONE on June 30.

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first published:July 02, 2021, 10:03 IST