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DNA sequencer in space solves a mystery

Peggy Whitson with DNA secquencer
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson performed the Genes in Space-3 investigation on the International Space Station using devices that amplify and sequence microbial DNA samples. (NASA Photo)

NASA isn’t saying it’s aliens — but the space agency is touting its ability to identify organisms using the first DNA sequencer in orbit.

Oxford Nanopore Technologies’ palm-sized MiniON sequencer was sent up to the International Space Station last year, and it’s now been paired up with a DNA replicator that’s able to amplify genetic samples through a process known as polymerase chain reaction, or PCR.

Together, the devices were employed to check bacterial samples as part of an experimental campaign called Genes in Space-3.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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