Scientists continue to use DNA analysis as a way to evaluate life and to discover the makeup of new substances.
If we, as humans, were to spend long periods of time in space, however, we would need to be able to sequence DNA in zero gravity. Scientists haven't been able to do this until recently, when two geneticists tried to sequence DNA on the NASA reduced-gravity aircraft. The research was published in the journal Nature.
To test sequencing DNA in zero gravity, researchers used two tools they thought might work. The first basically involved using a pipette to move liquid from one container to another. This process involves suction and would usually require gravity to keep substances in their separate containers.
To keep the liquid in the beaker, the researchers tested three methods. Two of these resulted in imperfect samples, with one being hard to control and the other causing air bubbles. The third method used a special type of pipette called positive displacement, which works like a syringe without an air cushion. It's usually used for dangerous liquids but also works in zero gravity.
The researchers also tested a genetic sequencer called MinION. This small, handheld sequencer has a reputation for being tough, and was used during the Ebola outbreak. Essentially, it is able to display results in real-time. The device sequences DNA by pushing it through tiny pores in an electroconductive surface, a method that would work very well in space. What the researchers found was that the MinION showed results in zero gravity that were the same as those on Earth.
The two methods might actually both need to be used, with the first being more appropriate for long-term storage and the second being more useful for portable DNA sequencing.
These first results are promising, and the researchers hope to test the methods more in-depth on the International Space Station over the next few months.