Scientists in the Biosciences Area are exploring the ability of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, to store and protect DNA from damage in an experiment that recently traveled to the International Space Station National Laboratory onboard SpaceX CRS-24.
Storing data within DNA is a rapidly advancing field, with applications in biotechnology, energy and materials science. However, to store and carry data, the DNA must avoid damage, degradation, and mutation.
An experiment led by researchers in the Biological Systems and Engineering (BSE) Division, aims to use cyanobacteria’s naturally occurring functions to successfully transport DNA. The experiment was led by Aindrila Mukhopadhyay, senior scientist and Deputy for Science of the Biological Systems and Engineering Division, and Anne Kakouridis, a postdoctoral researcher in the Ecosystems and Networks Integrated with Genes Molecular Assemblies (ENIGMA) Scientific Focus Area.
The researchers engineered cyanobacteria to contain a plasmid (a small loop of DNA) that contains the code for a form of antibiotic resistance used in lab studies. The bacteria were then dried out before being securely packaged and sent off to the launchpad.
The experiment will be stored at ambient temperature and astronauts will not interact with the package while in flight. Once the bacteria return to Earth (projected to be May 2022), they will be rehydrated. Scientists will determine whether the plasmid DNA suffered any damage, and whether the exact genetic data can be correctly read from sequencing the plasmid DNA.
This approach holds promise to be protective against extreme or resource-limited environments. It also could enable transport of DNA and/or any encoded data for use in producing materials while in orbit, or for use here on the ground in defense and security applications. Moreover, it is simple and inexpensive, making it easily implemented for broad applications.
This work was funded by the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency and supported by commercial services provider Rhodium Scientific.