Away Teams & Field Reports

Away Team Tech: Self-Contained Device Isolates Biological Samples

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
January 14, 2023
Filed under , , , , , , , ,
Away Team Tech: Self-Contained Device Isolates Biological Samples
Self-Contained Device Isolates Biological Samples


JSC is looking to interested parties to license and commercialize this patented technology. Innovators at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) developed a patented self-contained device for isolating deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), ribonucleic acid (RNA), proteins, and cells without using pipettes or centrifuges.

Composed of reagents, functionalized membranes, and multi-way valves and pumps, this novel fluidic system enables automation of highly accurate real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology to isolate genetic material from organisms and microorganisms for molecular analysis.

The device is self-enclosed and leak-proof, so users are protected from chemically hazardous reagents. Developed to enable molecular diagnostics aboard the International Space Station (ISS), this easy-to-use analysis tool can be fully automated and programmed, extending laboratory isolation protocols to numerous applications in health care, forensics, and field biology.

The Technology

JSC’s technology provides hazard-free, microgravity-compatible hardware for DNA/RNA isolation. It also allows PCR analysis to be used outside the lab in environments where pipetting is difficult and/or where hazardous chemicals must be confined to an enclosed container, such as military settings and remote clinical operations.

This self-contained device for isolating DNA/RNA, proteins, and cells is a component system that includes syringes and pistons, membranes of different capacities, reagents, four-way valves, and small pumps. The pre-filled reagents are the same as those used in conventional PCR laboratory isolation analysis. The DNA and RNA isolation kits are novel and process small sample amounts using a self-enclosed and pipette-free technique. Multiple kits can be stacked to allow several samples to be processed simultaneously.

The system can be used in conjunction with existing analysis modules, such as commercially available DNA instruments. The process can be fully automated and programmed and can potentially be applied to other biological processes. The JSC innovation will permit the extension of laboratory isolation protocols to many applications. This NASA Technology is available for your company to license and develop into a commercial product. NASA does not manufacture products for commercial sale.


  • Compact and portable: DNA/RNA isolation kits (10 x 10 x 2 in)
  • Self-contained: Requires no auxiliary equipment to isolate desired targets
  • Safe: Does not require hazardous chemicals for PCR analysis
  • Effective: Offers sensitivities similar to standard isolation methods


  • Remote clinical operations
  • Arctic operations
  • Forensic investigations
  • Agribusiness
  • Space vehicles

Source: NASA Self-Contained Device Isolates Biological Samples (MSC-TOPS-42)

Astrobiology, Tricorder, Away Team,

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻