Science & Environment

DNA sequencer sent to space station

MiniIon sequencer Image copyright NASA

Nasa has sent a DNA sequencer to the International Space Station in an effort to help astronauts monitor their own health.

A SpaceX cargo ship sent the sequencer into orbit on Monday, along with other items for the crew.

It was developed by the UK-based company Oxford Nanopore Technologies.

The device is designed to show whether DNA sequencing is possible in microgravity.

Nasa hopes DNA sequencers could enable the environmental monitoring of microbes to identify potential causes of illness and understand the health of astronauts.

Last year, Nasa microbiologist Dr Sarah Castro said of the project: "Currently aboard the space station there is not a real-time method for identifying microbes, diagnosing infectious disease, and collecting any form of genomic and genetic data concerning crew health.

"Meeting these needs relies on returning samples from space to Earth and subsequent ground-based analysis, which takes time."

The sequencer, which is just 9.5cm long and weighs 120g, is tiny compared to the microwave-sized devices used on Earth.