Students of Space Center Houston’s Space Center University have designed an experiment for astronauts to perform on the International Space Station (ISS). Their experiment launched aboard the SpaceX resupply mission and Space Center Houston held a launch viewing where guests performed the experiment to learn about DNA.

The nonprofit science and space exploration learning center will share the results of the research as part of its Innovation Gateway community science initiative. Meant to inspire the next generation of scientists, the initiative highlights how science, technology, engineering and math learning is for everyone.

The experiment will determine if a specific, targeted enzyme can successfully sever a circular DNA strand called a plasmid, which is normally found in a bacterium or protozoan, into a linear one in the weightlessness of spaceflight. This would allow genome editing or therapy to take place, potentially curing rare genetic diseases and possibly someday repairing DNA damage caused by exposure to space radiation.

This technology is proven effective in plants on Earth and could make a huge impact here as well as supporting human life in space, according to Jo Ann Hux, a senior research associate with Precision BioSciences, who traveled to Space Center Houston to help design the experiment.

“This is beyond what we do in the classroom. This is the real thing.”
Karen Kingrea, STEM director at Immaculate Catholic School

Aboard ISS, astronauts will mix the powdered enzyme with DNA and allow the process to run its course before adding a detergent that will act as a “stop” solution. The three components are housed within six-inch plastic tubes specifically designed for microgravity experimentation.

Leading the students through the experience was Karen Kingrea, STEM director at Immaculata Catholic School, and a member of the center’s Space Exploration Educator Crew. Kingrea recognizes the power of STEM education to make a difference in kids’ lives and embraces her role in shaping their future.

The space station research opportunity is being made available by Dream Up working with NanoRacks, LLC who makes this mission available through its Space Act Agreement with the U.S. National Lab on the International Space Station.

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