3D printable tools may help analyze impact of long space voyages on astronauts' health

Updated 2018-02-10 15:46:01 Xinhua

Three-D printable tools may help astronauts analyze how the space environment impacts their health so as to ensure successful long-term missions, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has said.

Currently, biological samples collected by astronauts cannot be processed on the International Space Station (ISS) and have to be sent back to Earth. It can be months between the time a sample is taken and an analysis is done.

In a news release Thursday, the U.S. space agency said it hopes to develop 3-D printable designs for instruments on the station that can handle liquids like blood samples without spilling in microgravity.

Astronauts collect a variety of samples, including their own saliva and blood, as well as microbes swabbed from the walls of the ISS. These samples have to be mixed with water and then injected into instruments for analysis, NASA said.

With these 3-D printable tools, astronauts could analyze biological samples without sending them back to Earth.

This technology is being developed by the NASA-led Omics in Space project, aiming to study "omics," or fields of microbiology that are important to human health, including research into genomes, microbiomes and proteomes.

Last year, the agency took a big step by sequencing DNA in space for the first time. Astronauts used a tiny, handheld sequencing tool called the MinION, developed by Oxford Nanopore Technologies.

Omics in Space plans to develop an automated DNA/RNA extractor which will prepare samples for a MinION device. A critical part of this extractor is a 3-D printable plastic cartridge needed to extract nucleic acids from the sample.

"What's new is we're developing a one-stop-shop that can extract and process all of these samples," said Camilla Urbaniak, a NASA researcher and co-investigator with Omics in Space.

Scientists are still not sure why astronauts' immune systems tend to be weaker after living on the ISS, which has been revealed in previous omics research. The field of epigenetics, which studies how genes are expressed, including how humans age, may help explain how microgravity and cosmic rays affect the DNA of humans, NASA said.

Astronauts are not the only passengers who travel to the ISS. There are also microbes, carried by humans and cargo alike, which accumulate on board spacecraft.

"We need to put together a 'passenger list' of the microbes that ride along to space," said Nitin Singh, another researcher involved in the project. "Then, astronauts can detect genetic markers revealing whether these microbes are helpful or harmful."

A long-term space mission requires the ability to respond to changes in a crew's environment, said co-investigator Ganesh Mohan, who is in charge of detecting pathogenic microbes.

"You can see whether a possibly harmful microbe is increasing in number in real time. If needed, we could then take actions to counteract those microbes," Mohan said.

Also in the News

Nicole Kidman Recalls Oscar Glory: Loneliest Time
Showbiz2016/06/16 13:58February 26 2018 09:02:01

Nicole Kidman Recalls Oscar Glory: Loneliest Time

Attending Shanghai International Film Festival, Nicole Kidman talks about her role in "Grace of Monaco".

Labor Day Travel Peak Starts
Also in the News2014/05/01 12:16February 26 2018 09:02:01

Labor Day Travel Peak Starts

Johnny Depp Delivers a Speech 'Evolve the Future' in 'Transcendence'
Also in the News2014/04/18 13:18February 26 2018 09:02:01

Johnny Depp Delivers a Speech 'Evolve the Future' in 'Transcendence'

Hollywood star Johnny Depp's speech in the upcoming new film "Transcendence" has been disclosed on Friday, April 11th.

Most Watched

News:
China World Business Sports Showbiz Audio
Video:
C4 My Chinese Life The Sound Stage China Revealed Showbiz Video Travel Video
Photos:
China World Fun Travel Entertainment Sports
Travel:
Beijing Shanghai Guangzhou
Lifestyle:
Live Music Opera & Classical Movies Traditional Shows Exhibitions
Learn Chinese:
Chinese Studio Living Chinese Everyday Chinese Just For Fun Chinese Culture Buzzwords