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Student-created DNA Experiment Returns to Earth; Finalists Selected for Next Round of Student Projects

The first Genes in SpaceTM experiment, by 17-year-old high-school student Anna-Sophia Boguraev, was performed aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on April 19 – making it the first DNA amplification experiment ever conducted aboard the ISS. Results from this first Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) experiment in space will be presented at the 2016 ISS Research and Development Conference in San Diego, Calif., July 12-14.

Boguraev’s experiment returned to Earth on May 11 aboard NASA’s Cargo Resupply Services mission (CRS-8). Her experiment samples will travel to New England Biolabs (NEB) in Boston for further analysis and review.

Anna-Sophia Boguraev watches as her experiment is launched aboard a NASA Cargo Resupply Services flight to the International Space Station.

Anna-Sophia Boguraev watches as her experiment is launched aboard a NASA Cargo Resupply Services flight to the International Space Station.

The experiment’s goal is to establish whether genetic changes to DNA are linked to a weakened immune system observed in astronauts who have spent time in micro-gravity. Finding the cause for the weakened immune systems of crew members is an important step in safeguarding astronauts’ health for long-duration missions, like the planned three-year round-trip mission to Mars.

The ISS is a test bed for deep space exploration, through cutting-edge research and key technological developments, as well as advancements in scientific knowledge in Earth, physical and biological sciences.

Additionally, five finalist teams have been selected for the 2016 edition of the Genes in SpaceTM U.S. student competition. Finalist submissions include proposals to study radiation damage, engineer biological solutions, and assess the impacts of microgravity on human physiology.

Five Student Teams Selected as Finalists for International Space Station Science Competition
The finalist teams were chosen from a competitive group of more than 380 applications from across the country. The finalists, with their ages listed in parentheses, include:
Amy Gu (17) and Maria Byamana (17) from Cambridge, Mass., aim to study the mechanisms that cause reactivation of Epstein-Barr viruses (EBV) during spaceflight to shed light on a process that could pose serious health threats to astronauts.

Dylan Barcelos (16), Kylie Cooper (16), and Mason Frizado (16)
 from Fall River, Mass., plan to investigate the genetic basis of increased bacterial virulence in microgravity, seeking to answer whether horizontal gene transfer could contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacterial biofilms that develop under space conditions.

Finsam Samson (15)
 from Troy, Mich., wants to develop a PCR-based assay to monitor oxidative stress on-orbit, ultimately looking to improve health conditions during long-term space travel.

Julian Rubinfien (15)
 from New York, NY, aims to establish a reliable assay for measuring telomere length in space, in order to investigate potentially deleterious effects of deep space flight on chromosomes that could lead to premature aging in astronauts.

Justin Harris (18), Savanna WeaselBear (17), Corey Ardrey (18), and Seth Bittle (18) 
from Ada, Okla., hope to study genetic changes across generations as natural selection operates in a space environment, and propose solutions that might enable future space colonization.

The five teams will receive mentoring from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists to help make the experiments feasible for space research. The teams will also present their proposals to a panel of scientists, educators, and technologists at the ISS R&D Conference in July. The winner will be announced at the conclusion of the conference. Like Boguraev, their experiment will be performed 250 miles above the Earth aboard the ISS.

Members of the winning team will also participate in a space biology workshop to prepare their investigation and be invited to watch the launch of their experiment from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

All finalist proposals make use of miniPCR technology aboard the ISS. PCR is a method for making copies of a particular sequence of DNA in order to conduct experiments on that sequence.

The Genes in SpaceTM competition is supported by its partners Boeing, miniPCR, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), NEB, and Math for America (MƒA).

For more information about the Genes in SpaceTM competition, finalists, and the honorable mentions, visit: www.genesinspace.org.