10/25/2017

An Evening With NASA Astronaut Kathleen Rubins

Can you Pipette without Gravity?

In our Fall 2017 newsletter being close to a partner lab is discussed. On the other end of the spectrum let's consider running scientific experiments in what could arguably be considered the most inconvenient location to conduct assays - the International Space Station (ISS). The Whitehead Institute hosted a visit by one of their alumna, Dr. Kate Rubins.

In the summer of 2016 during International Space Station (ISS) expeditions 47/48, Dr. Kate Rubins performed the first DNA sequencing in a microgravity environment. Nearly 50 years after DNA sequencing started equipment small and robust enough were available to conduct DNA analysis over 250 miles about the surface of the Earth. It laid the groundwork to conduct more real time sampling and analysis in a closed loop system. 

Before the installation of more advanced equipment and materials to be used in this microgravity environment, some basic assumptions needed to be addressed. Two interesting questions are; can a person pipette in space and how will liquids behave when interacting with plastic ware and consumables without gravity. Kate shared that both NASA as well as its partners assumed there would be difficulty pipetting in space. That preconceived notions had not be tested until Kate demonstrated that liquid surface tension allowed basic pipetting to be performed. Liquids were transferred between 50 mL tubes, custom built centrifuge rotor, and 96 well plates. Some things did need to be addressed. To keep pipettes and other material on the "Lab bench" from floating away they were adhered to a table surface viaduct tape. In the picture and on NASA's website you can make out a pipettes sticking to the bench by their tops, a 50 mL conical tube with fluid and no cap, and the 96 well plate.

What is exciting is not only that assays we run in our labs can be translated successfully into space but that now that Kate has shown the way, many more experiments can follow. Let's hope that it won't take another 50 years for such an impactful experiment to be conducted.

An Evening with NASA Astronaut Kathleen Rubins

  
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