NASA scientists identify unknown microbes aboard International Space Station

January 2, 2018 by  
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Hurricane Harvey couldn’t stand in the way of a groundbreaking experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) this summer. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and the Genes in Space-3 team have identified unknown microbes in space . Their work could help future astronauts monitor crew health and diagnose ailments in real time – without needing to send a sample back to Earth. Astronaut Kate Rubins sequenced DNA for the first time in microgravity in 2016 , which NASA described as a game changer. But scientists knew what the samples contained, as they’d been prepared on Earth. This past summer, the Genes in Space-3 team conducted an experiment with samples collected in space to see if they could sequence unknown organisms. Whitson was in the process of performing the investigation when Hurricane Harvey hit – and the Earth-based principal investigator Sarah Wallace was in Houston. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama came to the rescue, enabling the two women to communicate by patching Wallace’s cell phone into the space to ground loops. With a hurricane whirling outside, the experiment continued. Related: The International Space Station is a germophobe’s nightmare “Right away, we saw one microorganism pop up, and then a second one, and they were things that we find all the time on the space station,” Wallace said in a statement. The samples were sent to Earth, so biochemical and sequencing tests could confirm the ISS findings, which they did: the results were the same on our planet as in orbit. “As a microbiologist, my goal is really so that when we go and we move beyond ISS and we’re headed towards Mars or the moon or wherever we are headed to, we have a process that the crew can have that great understanding of the environment based on molecular technology,” said Wallace in a NASA Johnson video . She was the lead author on a study published in Scientific Reports in December. A team of 21 scientists from NASA and institutions in the United States and United Kingdom collaborated on the article. Via NASA Images via NASA Johnson on YouTube , NASA , and Rachel Barry

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NASA scientists identify unknown microbes aboard International Space Station

How scaly dinosaurs turned into feathery birds – new gene study offers clues

November 29, 2017 by  
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Dinosaurs no longer roam the planet – unless you count birds . Recent discoveries have revealed many dinosaurs once had feathers , and birds are actually dinosaurs that have evolved over time. But we don’t really know how feathers evolved. A recent study led by University of Southern California (USC) researchers involving alligator and chicken genes may offer new insight. Feathers and scales are comprised of keratin, and both are part of skin growth, so scientists have surmised they might have a shared evolutionary history. But the nature of that history is still a mystery. A dinosaur unearthed in 2014 in Siberia appeared to possess feather-like filaments, some growing out of scales – leading researchers to think feather-like structures might have evolved from modified scales. So the USC-led team took genes they think might be important in the development of feathers and had them expressed in chicken and alligator embryos while feathers and scales, respectively, developed. They also identified new genes that regulate the development genes and altered the amount of their activity, according to The Guardian . Related: New details of feathered dinosaur could elucidate the origins of flight The researchers produced new types of modified scales, revealing relatively simple changes to some genes can cause alligator early scale development to produce things like the ancestral feathers of non-avian dinosaurs. The Guardian said it’s not a large step from the feather-like structures to something similar to a true early feather. Add the idea that early proto-feathers that gave advantages to their owners would have developed more under natural selection , and it’s not a massive leap to suggest feathers could have formed rather easily. Modifying genes in chickens led to an array of feather forms, including ones seen in dinosaurs, narrowing the gap between feather and scale from a creature with feathers. We still have a long way to go in our understanding, but this recent work could offer some clues. More gene tweaks could potentially reveal the pathway from scale to feather. The journal Molecular Biology and Evolution published the research this month; scientists from institutions in Taiwan, China, and Louisiana contributed to the work. Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos and PublicDomainPictures.net

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How scaly dinosaurs turned into feathery birds – new gene study offers clues

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