The astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS) have had a very eventful week. Aside from mobilizing to contain a small air leak detected on the Russian side of the orbiting laboratory, as recently reported by the Inquisitr, the crew of Expedition 56 have been busy with ground-breaking science experiments.
All their hard work has paid off in a tremendous way, as NASA was happy to report that the crew had an amazing breakthrough during this past week.
One of the science experiments currently running on board the ISS is the Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST), a project aimed at studying how life in zero gravity affects the unseen microbes that dwell inside the space station.
The experiment made its way aboard the orbital outpost on May 24 via the Cygnus resupply vehicle launched by Orbital ATK, now Northrop Grumman. The goal of this investigation is to examine how microbes react to zero gravity and whether spaceflight influences the way in which they mutate, the Inquisitr reported, prior to the spacecraft’s launch.
According to the space agency, BEST envisions using a special sequencing technique for the purpose of identifying unknown microbes living on board the ISS and which can’t be detected through current methods.
The experiment also seeks to assess any possible microbial mutations triggered as a result of spaceflight and to perform direct sequencing of RNA — an essential molecule that carries out the instructions encoded in DNA, NASA explained in a Facebook post.
The latter has just been achieved earlier this week, when U.S. astronaut Ricky Arnold successfully sequenced RNA in space for the very first time.
“This week, NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold became the first person to sequence RNA in space, another molecular milestone aboard the orbiting laboratory,” space agency officials announced on August 31.
Space Station Science Highlights: Week of August 27, 2018. #station #iss https://t.co/vQuCsVdvQM This week, NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold became the first person to sequence RNA in space, another molecular milestone aboard the orbiting laboratory.
— SciTech FliX (@SciTechFliX) August 31, 2018
While the successful sequencing of DNA had already been conducted onboard the space station in August, 2016, this is the first time that anyone has performed the same operation on RNA.
“Within the first few minutes, more than 15,000 RNA molecules had been sequenced, matching and surpassing many ground sequencing runs. The run continued for 48 hours,” detailed NASA officials.
This momentous achievement has been described as a “historic milestone” by NASA Senior Communications Specialist Isidro Reyna, who noted that the BEST experiment “has the potential to be a game changer for research into crew health and understanding how organisms respond to spaceflight.”
In the video below, Reyna explains that the BEST project can help researchers understand how all kinds of organisms, from microbes to plants to the astronauts living and working in space, adapt to life conditions on board the ISS.
As Reyna points out, this investigation “can provide better insight” into the type of technologies we need to develop for future human explorations, both on the orbiting lab and elsewhere in the solar system.