Astronauts are the first to demonstrate CRISPR / Cas9 gene editing in space.
The advent of CRISPR/Cas9, a revolutionary method of genome editing, has opened the door to new treatments for disease, raised serious ethical questions and earned the Nobel Prize. Now CRISPR-assisted genome editing has been successfully demonstrated in space as part of the Genes in Space program, a collaboration between professional scientists and teenage students.
The experiment was developed by miniPCR bio, a life sciences company with aerospace giant Boeing, and performed on yeast cells by astronauts Christine Koch, Nick Haig and David Saint-Jacques during their expedition to the ISS.
Before being sent to the ISS, scientists modified the work of CRISPR / Cas9 in such a way that the genomic editor began to make predictable breaks in the double strand of DNA in specific regions of the genome, which made it easier to observe the process of repairing such mutations.
On the ISS in microgravity, the scientists split the DNA with gene-editing tools and then watched it rebuild. The process of repairing the DNA double helix as a whole proceeded according to the same principles both in weightlessness and in the presence of an attractive force. This casts doubt on the theories of many biologists, who have suggested in the past that being in zero gravity can markedly impair the ability of cells to correct such mutations.
In the near future, scientists plan to conduct other experiments with CRISPR / Cas9 on board the ISS. The scientists hope that these experiments will help them understand whether the work of DNA repair systems will change during longer missions into space, as well as reveal possible differences in the work of genome editors on Earth and in its orbit.
Damage to the body’s DNA can occur during normal biological processes or as a result of environmental influences such as ultraviolet radiation. In humans and other animals, damaged DNA can lead to cancer. However, cells have several different natural strategies to repair damaged DNA. Astronauts traveling outside Earth’s protective atmosphere face an increased risk of DNA damage due to ionizing radiation entering space.