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Student-designed Space Station Investigation Targets Astronaut Health

As a kid, Anna-Sophia Boguraev (17) used a bit of water, some rubbing alcohol and her mother’s blender to extract DNA from vegetables. Last Friday, she watched her experiment launch to the International Space Station (ISS) from Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla. aboard NASA’s cargo resupply services flight (CRS-8). Her experiment will assess if DNA changes can be detected aboard the ISS using a miniPCR machine.

The goal of the Boeing-sponsored student experiment is to determine if genetic changes to DNA and the weakened immune system observed in astronauts are linked. Finding the cause for the weakened immune systems of crews is an important step in safeguarding health for long duration missions, such as the three year mission to Mars. This will be one of the first experiments using DNA amplification technologies while in orbit.

The miniPCR machine, uses the polymerase chain reaction or PCR process  to make millions of copies of a particular sequence of DNA in order to detect or conduct experiments on that sequence.

By testing gene changes in orbit, Boguraev’s experiment may open the door to assessing astronaut health during space flight, including genetic changes that could lead to cancer, neurological disorders, and developmental abnormalities. Results of this experiment could aid in the detection of immune system alterations that lead to increased susceptibility to autoimmune disease, allergies and other diseases in space.

Boguraev’s experiment launched just weeks after NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s historic return to Earth after 340 days in space.

The annual competition is a partnership between Boeing, Math for America, miniPCR, CASIS, and New England Biolabs®, Inc.

Genes in Space 2015 winning student experiment, designed by Anna-Sophia Boguraev, will assess if changes in DNA can be detected aboard the ISS.

Genes in Space 2015 winning student experiment, designed by Anna-Sophia Boguraev, will assess if changes in DNA can be detected aboard the ISS.