The goal wasn’t to create super space yeast. The astronauts were studying how DNA repair mechanisms work in space, so they snipped through strands of the fungus’s genetic code in a number of places to mimic radiation damage.
“The damage actually happens on the space station and the analysis also happens in space,” said Emily Gleason of miniPCR Bio, the company that designed the DNA lab aboard the ISS. “We want to understand if DNA repair methods are different in space than on Earth.”
Space is actually a pretty hazardous place, and radiation is one of the biggest concerns.
Although at its average altitude of 408 kilometres (253 miles) the ISS is still protected by Earth’s magnetic field, in six months onboard, on average the astronauts are subjected to around 30 times the radiation a human receives in a year on Earth.
It’s well documented that space radiation puts ISS astronauts at risk for radiation sickness, as well as raising long-term risk for cancer, degenerative diseases and central nervous system problems.
For a mission to Mars, which would be a lot longer than six months spent outside Earth’s protective bubble, the radiation hazard increases. So figuring out how DNA repairs itself from radiation damage could be incredibly useful.
Humans may not be able to burp properly in space, but we can now edit a genome. For the first time, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have used CRISPR-Cas9 to edit the DNA of brewer’s yeast. To read out more, please visit: https://bit.ly/2HYWjqc