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How does the space environment impact human health? NASA Extreme Environments Missions Operation (NEEMO)- 21 aquanaut Matthias Maurer is working to find out.

Maurer, one of several aquanauts who has participated in the NEEMO missions with FIU’s Medina Aquarius Program, is now exploring the ways in which living in the space environment affects human health, antibiotic resistance, and aging. As a part of the Biomolecule Sequencer experiment, he inserts DNA samples into the MinION DNA sequencer, a handheld device used by NASA in 2016 to sequence DNA in space for the first time.

NASA’s new Omics in Space project will build upon this momentum from 2016 by creating an automated DNA/RNA extractor with the ability to prepare samples for the MinION device. Omics refers to fields of microbiology such as genomics, proteomics, or metabolomics that are vital to human health. Given that overnight mail is not available from space just yet, scientists must find a way to analyze biological samples from their space station rather than waiting months for samples to be analyzed back on Earth.

This new device uses a 3-D printable plastic cartridge in order to extract nucleic acids from DNA samples– a crucial part of preparing samples for the MinION DNA sequencing device. Understanding how bacteria, genetics, aging, and disease are altered by the space environment is crucial in ensuring the health of NASA crew members on space missions. This project brings astronauts one step closer to creating an automated system that will allow them to both extract and process DNA samples in space.

Read the full story to learn more about this Aquanaut. For more information on NEEMO missions, visit the Aquarius Reef Base website.