Researchers have developed and successfully demonstrated a new method to study how cells repair damaged DNA in space. Sarah Stahl-Rommel of Genes in Space and colleagues present new technique in open access journal PLOS ONE June 30, 2021.
Damage to an organism’s DNA can occur during normal biological processes or as a result of environmental causes, such as UV light. In humans and other animals, damaged DNA can lead to cancer. Fortunately, cells have several different natural strategies by which damaged DNA can be repaired. Astronauts traveling outside Earth’s protective atmosphere face an increased risk of DNA damage from the ionizing radiation permeating space. Therefore, the specific DNA repair strategies used by the body in space can be particularly important. Previous work suggests that microgravity conditions may influence this choice, raising concerns that the repair is not adequate. However, technological and security hurdles have so far limited investigations into the matter.
Now, Stahl-Rommel and his colleagues have developed a new method to study DNA repair in yeast cells that can be performed entirely in space. The technique uses CRISPR / Cas9 genome editing technology to create precise damage to DNA strands so that DNA repair mechanisms can then be observed in more detail than would be possible with non-specific damage. by radiation or other causes. The method focuses on a particularly harmful type of DNA damage known as double strand breaks.
Researchers have successfully demonstrated the viability of the new method in yeast cells aboard the International Space Station. They hope the technique will now allow for more research into DNA repair in space. This study marks the first time that CRISPR / Cas9 genome editing has been successfully conducted in space, as well as the first time in space that living cells have undergone successful transformation – the incorporation of genetic material from the outside the body.
Future research could refine the new method to better mimic the complex DNA damage caused by ionizing radiation. The technique could also serve as a basis for research on many other molecular biology topics related to long-term space exposure and exploration.
“It was not only that the team successfully deployed new technologies such as CRISPR genome editing, PCR and nanopore sequencing in an extreme environment, but also that we were able to integrate them into a flow. of functionally comprehensive biotechnology work applicable to the study of DNA repair and other fundamental cellular processes in microgravity, “said lead author Sebastian Kraves.” These developments fill this team with hope in the renewed quest of humanity to explore and inhabit the vast expanse of space. “
First author Sarah Stahl Rommel adds: “Being a part of Genes in Space-6 has been a highlight of my career. I have seen with my own eyes how much can be accomplished when the ideas of innovative students are supported by top academics, industry, and NASA. The team’s expertise has made it possible to carry out complex and high-quality scientific work beyond the limits of the Earth. I hope this impactful collaboration will continue to show students and seasoned researchers what is possible aboard our lab in space. “
Co-author Sarah Castro-Wallace said: “It has been an honor to support Genes in Space-6. I am always blown away by the incredible sophistication of science that has been achieved when an organism has been transformed, its genome edited with CRISPR / Cas9 to cause breaks in DNA, followed by its growth to allow DNA repair, and finally its sequenced DNA, all in the spaceflight environment aboard the ISS “The ability to perform this comprehensive, end-to-end investigation is a huge leap forward for space biology. This caliber work is aimed at both outstanding students and the Genes in Space program.”
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