A timeline of DNA sequencing technology on the International Space Station

iss057e000185 (10/8/2018) – Biomolecular sequencing for the best experiment floating in front of window 7 in the cupola module. Earth is in the background. Biomolecule Sequencer seeks to demonstrate, for the first time, that DNA sequencing is possible on an orbiting spacecraft. A space-based DNA sequencer could identify microbes, diagnose diseases and understand the health of crew members, and help detect DNA-based life elsewhere in the solar system.


Bacteria can be identified by their unique biological blueprint, which is contained within molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

DNA is made up of four basic molecules that link together to encode instructions for cell growth and behavior. Determining the sequence of sites using the process of DNA sequencing provides researchers with clues to the identity of organisms and how they might behave.

The equipment required for DNA sequencing has historically been expensive and time-consuming and requires specialized expertise to operate, limiting its use in space.

Explore how this technology has evolved to where researchers now sequence DNA on the International Space Station:

February 1953 – Francis Crick, James Watson, and Rosalind Franklin discover the double helix structure that makes up DNA.

December 1977 – Frederick Sanger developed the first DNA sequencing method to study the genome of a virus.

July 1995 – The first whole bacterial genome was sequenced (H. influenzae) by shotgun sequencing, which breaks the genome into small pieces that are sequenced individually using a chain termination method and then reassembled.

February 2012 – Oxford Nanopore Technologies introduced the first nanopore sequencer using next-generation sequencing (NGS) with the MinION.

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April 2016 – As part of the NASA WetLab-2 study, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams performed the first RNA isolation in space from E.coli and collected data on RNA expression levels in the microbe.

April 2016 – DNA was amplified on the station for the first time by ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake using the first PCR machine sent to the station by the company MiniPCR.

August 2016 – NASA astronaut Kate Rubin sequences DNA in space for the first time.

August 2017 – NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson combines miniPCR and Minion to sequence and identify the first unknown microbe from the station.

View of genes in space-3 experiment in node 2 module. The Genes in Space-3 experiments demonstrate ways that portable, real-time DNA sequencing can be used to assess microbial ecology, diagnose infectious diseases, and monitor the health of crew members aboard the ISS.

August 2018 – NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold demonstrated Biomolecular Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) using culture-independent methods to sequence DNA on the station for the first time with the „Swap to Sequencer” method. This procedure speeds up the sequencing rate, eliminating the time and resources required to grow bacteria prior to analysis.

May 2019 – NASA astronaut Christina Koch performs the first CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing on the station, using yeast to mimic the effects of space radiation on human DNA.

July 31, 2020 – NASA astronaut and Expedition 63 commander Chris Cassidy serves to sequence and identify microbial DNA samples inside the Harmony module of the International Space Station.

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February 2021 – Crews conduct more than 800 microbial sample collections across the station for 3DMM testing. Scientists used DNA sequencing and other analyzes to create the first detailed 3D map of bacteria and bacterial products across the station.

Jan. 3, 2022 – NASA astronaut and Expedition 66 flight engineer Raja Sari uses the BioMole facility to sequence DNA from bacterial samples to understand the microbial environment aboard the International Space Station.

September 6, 2023 – NASA astronaut and Expedition 69 flight engineer Jasmine Mogbeli presents microbial samples for DNA sequencing aboard the International Space Station.

Astronomy, Genetics, Astrobiology,

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