Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Automation & Microfluidics
Scientific Community
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

Detecting DNA in space

Published: Tuesday, July 09, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 09, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Researchers, in a step toward analyzing Mars for signs of life, find that gene-sequencing chip can survive space radiation.

If there is life on Mars, it’s not too farfetched to believe that such Martian species may share genetic roots with life on Earth.

More than 3.5 billion years ago, a blitz of meteors ricocheted around the solar system, passing material between the two fledgling planets. This galactic game of pingpong may have left bits of Earth on Mars, and vice versa, creating a shared genetic ancestry between the two planets.

Such a theory holds great appeal for Christopher Carr, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Working with Gary Ruvkun at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Maria Zuber, the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics and MIT’s vice president for research, Carr is building a DNA sequencer that he hopes will one day be sent to Mars, where it can analyze soil and ice samples for traces of DNA and other genetic material.

Now in a step toward that goal, Carr and colleagues at MIT, Harvard University and MGH have exposed the heart of their tool — a DNA-sequencing microchip — to radiation doses similar to those that might be expected during a robotic expedition to Mars. After exposure to such radiation — including protons and heavy ions of oxygen and iron — the microchip analyzed a test strain of E. coli, successfully identifying its genetic sequence.

Carr says the group’s results show the microchip can survive up to two years in space — long enough to reach Mars and gather data there for a year and a half.

“Over time on Mars, a chip’s performance could degrade, reducing our ability to get sequence data. The chip might have a higher error rate, or could fail to function at all,” Carr says. “We did not see any of these issues [in our tests]. … Once this chip has been through two years of a Mars mission, it still will be able to sequence.”

The researchers reported their results in a paper published in the journal Astrobiology.

Simulating a solar storm

Any life on Mars, past or present, would have to be extremely resilient: The planet’s atmosphere, made mostly of carbon dioxide, is 100 times thinner than Earth’s, providing very little warmth. Temperatures can plummet to minus 195 degrees Fahrenheit.

On the other hand, the deep subsurface of Mars is not much different from that of Earth, which is known to harbor microbes. Results from the Curiosity rover, currently exploring Mars, suggest that beneath the planet’s surface lies a dry and cold — but otherwise likely benign — environment, with all the major elements required for life.

To detect such subterranean life, a DNA-sequencing instrument on the surface of Mars would have to withstand temperature swings and steady exposure to space radiation. Such exposure could cause chips to report false positives, for instance, or to record extra bases in DNA sequences.

Carr and his colleagues tested the effects of Mars-like radiation on a commercially available sequencing chip. The tested chip contains 1.3 million microwells, each of which can hold a single bead containing an amplified fragment of DNA that can be used to generate a DNA sequence.

To test the chip’s resilience to radiation, the team traveled to NASA’s Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Once there, the researchers, working with a total of 40 microchips, first performed electrical testing on 20 chips — a process by which a chip’s gain, voltage and wells are calibrated to verify that the parts are working properly.

Following electrical testing, Carr exposed the chips to various levels of radiation, using a linear accelerator and an electron-beam ion source. The highest radiation dose sustained by the chips was more than they would experience during a two-year mission to Mars.

After the chips were irradiated, the team once again tested the electrical performance of each, and found very little change in the chips’ functioning.

Life on Mars and beyond

In a second round of testing, Carr exposed the remaining 20 microchips to the same radiation levels as the first batch, then took the chips back to his lab and loaded each with DNA fragments from E. coli. Despite their exposure to radiation, the chips were able to analyze DNA and correctly identified the bacterial sequences.

“These chips are great candidates to do sequencing on Mars without any modifications that we know of right now,” Carr says. “We essentially see no impact from radiation. That was a critical thing for us to show.”

Chris McKay, a planetary scientist with the Space Science Division of NASA’s Ames Research Center, says a radiation-resilient DNA-sequencing chip, such as the one used in this experiment, is a promising candidate for future life-detecting missions to Mars and other planets.

The paper by Carr and colleagues “reports on an important step forward on the development of DNA sequencers for planetary missions,” says McKay, who did not contribute to the research. “In addition to being part of the search for life on other worlds, the DNA searcher would be relevant to assessing sites for human exploration.”

In previous studies, Carr and his colleagues have found that the reagents used in DNA sequencing can also withstand similar radiation levels. Taken together, Carr says, the results suggest genetic sequencing may be a viable process in space.

Beyond Mars, Carr says, DNA sequencing may be of interest in places such as Jupiter’s moon Europa, where liquid oceans may harbor signs of life. More promising, Carr says, are places like Enceladus, a moon of Saturn that is thought to be in a potential habitable zone, and that has much less intense radiation.

“I do think we’ll see DNA sequencing in space at some point,” Carr says. “Hopefully we’ll get a chance to be a part of that.”


Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 3,100+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 4,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Organ-on-a-Chip
In a step toward personalized drug testing, researchers coax human stem cells to form complex tissues.
Friday, January 08, 2016
Study Reveals Shared Behavior of Microbes And Electrons
Bacteria streaming through a lattice behave like electrons in a magnetic material.
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
Study Reveals Shared Behavior of Microbes and Electrons
Bacteria streaming through a lattice behave like electrons in a magnetic material.
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
Tracing a Cellular Family Tree
New technique allows tracking of gene expression over generations of cells as they specialize.
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
New Device Uses Carbon Nanotubes to Snag Molecules
Nanotube “forest” in a microfluidic channel may help detect rare proteins and viruses.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Scaling Up Synthetic-Biology Innovation
MIT professor’s startup makes synthesizing genes many times more cost effective.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Capturing Cell Growth in 3-D
Spinout’s microfluidics device better models how cancer and other cells interact in the body.
Monday, August 17, 2015
Real-Time Data for Cancer Therapy
Biochemical sensor implanted at initial biopsy could allow doctors to better monitor and adjust cancer treatments.
Thursday, August 06, 2015
Freshly Squeezed Vaccines
Microfluidic cell-squeezing device opens new possibilities for cell-based vaccines.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
Faster, Smaller, More Informative
Device can measure the distribution of tiny particles as they flow through a microfluidic channel.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Using Sound Waves To Detect Rare Cancer Cells
Acoustic device can rapidly isolate circulating tumor cells from patient blood samples.
Tuesday, April 07, 2015
Mechanically Stimulating Stem Cells
MIT biological engineering graduate student Frances Liu is studying ways to alter mechanical properties of cell environments to produce desired chemical outputs.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
New Way To Model Sickle Cell Behavior
Microfluidic device allows researchers to predict behavior of patients’ blood cells.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Watching How Cells Interact
New device allows scientists to glimpse communication between immune cells.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
Researchers Find that Going with the Flow Makes Bacteria Stick
In surprising new discovery, scientists show that microbes are more likely to adhere to tube walls when water is moving.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Scientific News
The Rise of 3D Cell Culture and in vitro Model Systems for Drug Discovery and Toxicology
An overview of the current technology and the challenges and benefits over 2D cell culture models plus some of the latest advances relating to human health research.
Biosensor Detects Molecules Linked to Cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
Novel biosensor has been proven capable of detecting molecules associated with neurodegenerative diseases and some types of cancer.
New Device Could Improve Cancer Detection
UBC researchers develop a microfluidic device to capture circulating tumor cells.
Gut Model HuMiX Works Like the Real Thing
Developed by scientists at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biology, the “Human Microbial Cross-talk” model is representative of the actual conditions and processes that occur within our intestines.
'Kidney on a Chip' Facilitates Safer Drug Dosing
University of Michigan researchers have used a "kidney on a chip" device to mimic the flow of medication through human kidneys and measure its effect on kidney cells.
AACR 2016: Cancer Immunotherapy and Beyond
At this year's meeting there was a palpable buzz around subjects ranging from microbiomics to the tumor microenvironment and cancer vaccines, big data to in vitro and in vivo modeling and drug delivery (to name just a few).
Releasing Cancer Cells for Better Analysis
A new device developed at the University of Michigan could provide a non-invasive way to monitor the progress of an advanced cancer treatment.
Lab-on-a-Chip for Detecting Glucose
By integrating microfluidic chips with fiber optic biosensors, researchers in China are creating ultrasensitive lab-on-a-chip devices to detect glucose levels.
Soy Shows Promise as Natural Anti-Microbial Agent
Soy isoflavones and peptides may inhibit the growth of microbial pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses, according to a new study from University of Guelph researchers.
Soy Shows Promise as Natural Anti-Microbial Agent
Researchers from University of Guelph show that soy isoflavones and peptides could be used to reduce microbial contamination of food.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

SELECTBIO Market Reports
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
3,100+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,500+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FOR FREE!