Genes in Space


Earlier this year, nineteen students from the 7th and 8th grade made a commitment to expand their knowledge of microbiology by researching and developing a DNA based experiment for the 2021 Genes In Space competition. Genes in Space is a national STEM contest that challenges students in grades 7 through 12 to design DNA analysis experiments using the ISS Lab. The contest is a collaboration between miniPCR bio™of Cambridge, New England Biolabs®. Boeing, and the ISS Lab.

These students began to research their ideas in January and worked until May to complete this optional project.  Their commitment, drive, and enthusiasm is truly inspiring. 

Congratulations to all for a job well done.

(Below are summaries of each experiment.  The actual research was an in depth lab analysis.) 


Hanna, Laurel, Mia:   Class of 2021

Improving the Amount of Iron in Red Russian Kale Grown on the ISS

The proposal is to fortify the iron content in red russian kale, a vegetable that is currently grown on the ISS.  Although kale is easy to grow, it does not have a significant amount of iron. The experiment will genetically edit and amplify the IREB2  gene present in red russian kale.   Future astronauts, especially women, will benefit from the research because when an iron deficiency is ignored, cognitive processes can be compromised.

Lucie, Nolan, Natasha, Sarah, Thomas:  

Class of 2021   

Increasing the Fresh Oxygen Level on the ISS By Crossing Areca Palm With Spanish Moss

Oxygen is recycled on the ISS and created by a compressor in much the same way that air is recycled in an airplane. However, this recycled air is not as healthy as air that is naturally produced by plants.  The goal is to improve the quality of air on the ISS by genetically engineering a plant that is resilient and easily grown.  Areca palm was researched as the plant of choice because it acts as a humidifier for the air. This plant is known for its ability to produce an increased amount of oxygen when compared to other plants.  Spanish moss was selected because it is a hardy plant that will be able to survive the particular climate provided on the ISS. When paired with the areca palm,  the Spanish moss will increase the oxygen production and air quality in space and also provide astronauts with  an environment that improves their emotional well-being. 

Annie, Tim, Ronan and Charlotte:  Class of 2022 

Can one strand of hair be used to determine whether an astronaut suffers from  anemia?

This experiment addresses whether anemia can be detected by testing the chemical composition of hair follicles using BioBits technology.  A diet that is low in iron can affect the brain, heart, lungs, and the ability to critically think.   The International Space Station is staffing more female positions than thirty-eight years ago when the first woman was launched into space, and this trend will probably continue.  Since anemia tends to affect women more than men, the importance of early detection becomes critical for women to continue to participate and contribute towards the success of the ISS program. 

Madisen, Armen, Douglas and Anthony:  Class of 2022

Using DNA to determine the type of microbes trapped in the filter system of the International Space Station. 

A variety of microbes do, in fact, exist in the vacuum of space and are also present on the ISS.  Air quality is affected by microbes brought on board with equipment and food deliveries as well as with the change in astronauts staffing the ISS. Many microbes, such as bacillus and staphylococcus aureus, are harmful.  Staphylococcus aureus is a very common bacteria and can attach itself to any host, damaging  the cells.  This bacteria not only causes skin infections, but also pneumonia, infection of the valves in the heart, and bone infections.  Since microbes reproduce and mutate rapidly, filtering and analysis of microbes is essential to the health of the astronauts. This experiment uses BioBits to test for the presence of the pathogenic microbe 

staphylococcus aureus, in the air filtration system on the ISS.


Nora, Harper and Mireille: Class of 2022

Is the bacteria salmonella present in lettuce grown on the International Space Station? 

Growing food has become an essential part of life on the ISS.  Lettuce is a vegetable that grows well aboard the ISS. During our research, we found that lettuce can easily become contaminated with bacteria such as salmonella and is very common with lettuce grown on Earth. Contamination with salmonella is present in lettuce grown both organically and in greenhouses.  For this reason, we question whether or not salmonella can be present in the lettuce grown on the ISS. Being able to test the lettuce before consumption is a necessary precaution that should be taken.  This experiment uses BioBits to test for the presence of salmonella in lettuce.