Genomics, Proteomics, & Cell Biology

Tricorder Tech: Nanopore Sequencing at Mars, Europa and Microgravity Conditions

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
September 18, 2022
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Tricorder Tech: Nanopore Sequencing at Mars, Europa and Microgravity Conditions
Sequencing in reduced gravity. a g level achieved (black line) and RMS vibration (1 s bins, blue line) and associated sequencing reads acquired during first “Mars” parabola. Each read is represented by a horizontal line (grey: partially or completely in transition period; red: completely in non-transition period) at its representative read quality score, �3̅ 393 (right axis). Vertical gray bands demarcate transitions between phases of flight. b Top scoring BLAST results for highest quality “Mars” read, indicated via arrow in panel a, length 6402. c Start of best match sequence alignment, to J02459.1 Enterobacteria phage lambda, complete genome, length 48502 (range 20562 to 27113, score 8907 bits(9877), expect 0.0, identities 6108/6651 (92%), gaps 395/6651 (5%), strand Plus/Minus). d Average genomic coverage of lambda for all parabolas based on tombo-aligned bases.

Nanopore sequencing, as represented by Oxford Nanopore Technologies’ MinION, is a promising technology for in situ life detection and for microbial monitoring including in support of human space exploration, due to its small size, low mass (∼100 g) and low power (∼1W).

Now ubiquitous on Earth and previously demonstrated on the International Space Station (ISS), nanopore sequencing involves translocation of DNA through a biological nanopore on timescales of milliseconds per base. Nanopore sequencing is now being done in both controlled lab settings as well as in diverse environments that include ground, air and space vehicles.

Future space missions may also utilize nanopore sequencing in reduced gravity environments, such as in the search for life on Mars (Earth-relative gravito-inertial acceleration (GIA) g = 0.378), or at icy moons such as Europa (g = 0.134) or Enceladus (g = 0.012).

We confirm the ability to sequence at Mars as well as near Europa or Lunar (g = 0.166) and lower g levels, demonstrate the functionality of updated chemistry and sequencing protocols under parabolic flight, and reveal consistent performance across g level, during dynamic accelerations, and despite vibrations with significant power at translocation-relevant frequencies.

Our work strengthens the use case for nanopore sequencing in dynamic environments on Earth and in space, including as part of the search for nucleic-acid based life beyond Earth.

NASA minION flight hardware for the ISS experiments. Note that this payload is so small that the standard NASA property tag is almost the same size as the payload itself. Credit: NASA/Sarah Castro

Christopher E. Carr, Noelle C. Bryan, Kendall N. Saboda, Srinivasa A. Bhattaru, Gary Ruvkun, Maria T. Zuber
Now published in npj Microgravity doi: 10.1038/s41526-020-00113-9

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