Cell & Molecular Biology Program

Hardware


BioCell Habitat

BioCell Habitat is a cell culture system capable of supporting complex cell culture experiments. The BioCell is available in a single-well version up to a six-well version. BioCell also supports fluid injections, media exchanges, and fixation and preservation of cultures on the ISS.

Bioculture System

The Bioculture System is a space biological science incubator designed to conduct cell and microbiology research on the ISS. This incubator supports a wide diversity of tissue, cell, and microbiological cultures and experiment methods to meet any spaceflight research experiment goals and objectives, including cell biology, microbiology, discovery biology, and drug-testing studies to be conducted on the ISS. Operationally, the Bioculture System carries active experiments to the ISS, transfers them to the ISS, and then returns upon completion of the experiment.

Biological Research in Canisters – Petri Dish Fixation Unit (BRIC-PDFU)

BRIC-PDFU experiments take place in enclosed canisters designed to host a variety of experiments. Recent research includes work on plan seedlings, callus cultures, microbes, and more. Typically, biological specimens are placed in Petri dishes, where crew members perform specific operations on orbit as directed by Principal Investigators.

Group Activation Pack-Fluid Processing Apparatus (GAP-FPA)

The Group Activation Pack-Fluid Processing Apparatus (GAP-FPA) is essentially a microgravity test tube that allows controlled, sequential mixing of two or three fluids in a weightless environment. The GAP-FPA is similar to a small test tube containing a glass barrel with a rubber septum in a Lexan? sheath. It has gas-permeable membranes; however, gas exchange is limited. The GAP-FPA allows sequential mixing of two or three fluids within a sterile environment.

HNU-Photonics Biochip Space Lab

The Bio-Chip Space-Lab provides an accessible platform that enables academic and industry researchers to perform long-term automated cell culturing experiments with live-cell imaging in the unique microgravity environment onboard the International Space Station.

WetLab-2

Wetlab-2 is a research platform for conducting real-time quantitative gene expression analysis aboard the International Space Station. Instead of waiting to fly samples back to Earth, WetLab-2 enables scientists to obtain real-time gene expression data from samples processed and analyzed aboard the space station, typically within four hours. WetLab-2 will enable traditional uses of quantitative PCR, such as measuring gene transcription or rapid detection of gene targets that indicate infectious disease, cell stress, changes in cell cycle, growth and development, and/or genetic abnormality. WetLab-2 includes a commercial quantitative PCR instrument (Cepheid SmartCycler), a sample transfer tool for retrieving samples from culturing hardware, and a set of fluidic modules to enable sample preparation work that will be performed by the astronaut crew working in a weightless environment.

MinION

MinION is a commercially available DNA sequencing device developed by Oxford Nanopore Technologies and used to identify life forms. The MinION works by sending a positive current through nanopores embedded in membranes inside the device. At the same time, fluid containing a DNA sample passes through the device. Individual DNA molecules partially block the nanopores and change the current in a way that is unique to that particular DNA sequence. By looking at these changes, researchers can identify the specific DNA sequence. NASA’s Biomolecule Sequencer Investigation recently sent samples of mouse, virus, and bacteria DNA to the space station. In addition to sample preparation and DNA sequencing, MinION can extract, prepare, and sequence DNA to identify unknown microbes on orbit. Onboard sequencing makes it possible for the crew to know what is in their environment at any time and take appropriate action—including clean up, disinfection, or using antibiotics to fight a microbial pathogen.

Quantitative PCR (QRT-PCR)

The Wetlab RNA SmartCycler includes a commercial quantitative PCR instrument (Cepheid SmartCycler), a sample transfer tool for retrieving samples from culturing hardware, and a set of fluidic modules to facilitate sample preparation work done by the ISS crew members. The Wetlab RNA SmartCycler enables traditional uses of quantitative PCR, such as measuring gene transcription or rapid detection of gene targets that indicate infectious disease, cell stress, changes in cell cycle, growth and development, and/or genetic abnormality. Applications range from fundamental biology investigations to commercial drug discovery efforts. The Wetlab RNA SmartCycler can also be used for real-time analysis of air, surface, water, or clinical samples to monitor environmental conditions and crew health. It can also be used to validate terrestrial analyses of samples returned from the space station by providing quantitative gene expression benchmarking prior to sample return to Earth.

miniPCR

The mini-polymerase chain reaction tool replicates DNA in order to have enough to analyze. PCR technology is used on the ISS to study epigenetic changes and how they affect the human immune system. miniPCR copies targeted pieces of DNA in a process known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Learn more about miniPCR and genes in space

Multipurpose Variable-G Platform (MVP)

Self-balancing centrifuges incorporated into the MVP enable researchers to perform microgravity experiments across a spectrum of gravitational conditions and on a wide variety of samples including cultured cells, DrosophilaArabidopsis, and C. elegans.

Space Automated Bioproduct Laboratory (SABL Incubator)

SABL supports a wide variety of fundamental, applied, and commercial space life sciences research, as well as education-based investigations and physical and material science experiments. SABL has over 23 liters of temperature controlled volume with LED lighting for scientific hardware and experiments and is capable of supporting life science research in the areas of microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, algae, fungi, viruses), small organisms, animal cells and tissue cultures, and small plants. The facility supports research on model organisms such as Escherichia coli (bacteria), Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast), Caenorhabditis elegans (nematodes), Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies), Arabidopsis thaliana (brassica plant), and others. Furthermore, SABL supports research into the effects of microgravity on pathogenic bacteria (alterations in virulence), fermentation processes (bacterial production of drugs and other compounds of interest), mammalian cell behavior (bone, muscle, heart, and immune system cells, for example) and tissue formation and growth, including 3-D cell aggregates and tissues useful for regenerative medicine studies.