DNA has been popularized by more than just science in recent years. Movies, TV, and even YouTube stars have come to glamorize the molecule as an icon of science fiction.
And in just a few short months we may see the fundamental compound venture off into the final frontier—without the deep pockets of Hollywood. We have Kate Rubins, Virologist turned NASA scientist, to thank for that.
So What’s She Doing?
Dr.Rubins will venture aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for a period of four months as a biochemist managing over two-hundred-fifty (250) experiments from researchers around the world. She is a member of the 20th group chosen by NASA to join the ISS, monitoring the mechanics of DNA sequencing in micro-gravity.
What’s the big deal?
So why did she close up her lab at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2009 to join the cadre of individuals at NASA?
She did so to better understand the building blocks that make us, well, us— in space. There are two stages to the project. The primary stage is to verify if that sequencing can occur in space at all. The next stage is to understand the effects of space on DNA in real time, monitoring for epigenetic changes in response to sleep disruptions and radiation.
Finally, Rubins will also be utilizing portable DNA sequencers, technologies utilized during outbreaks on Earth, to confirm whether they can assist in the search for extraterrestrial life in space. While she won’t be performing her own experiments, Rubins’ project will advance our understanding of the molecule that helps us understand who we are.