In an international effort to prepare for the upcoming era of space life science, a package of 29 new studies has been published in the journal CELL. SciLifeLab group leader and scientific chair of the consortium International Standards for Space Omics Processing (ISSOP) Stefania Giacomello (KTH), has co-authored two of the papers.
With big plans for interplanetary travel and human exploration of the solar system, space agencies and the private sector are in need of developing new and rigorous international standards for space research.
“NASA is planning manned long-distance missions in the 2030s and is studying this thoroughly. The main purpose is to learn how DNA and RNA are affected in space, as well as the epigenome, proteins, and metabolites in general. The approach is very comprehensive. Beyond tests on mammals, they wish to be able to grow plants in space as well and to recreate life on other planets. And our group at SciLifeLab is involved with that”, says Stefania Giacomello (KTH/SciLifeLab).
Astronauts from all over the world have carried out microgravity experiments at the International Space Station, ISS. However, as a consequence of the lack of standardized methods, external scientists find it hard to utilize the data in their own research.
“When the data has been collected by NASA it’s accessible to external researchers, but if we don’t know how the experiments were done, it’s hard to analyze the samples. To leverage all the samples and available knowledge, and with funding from the European Space Agency (ESA) ISSOP’s intention is to create guidelines and standards on how to perform these experiments. Then all can benefit from the generated data“, says Stefania.
Two recent publications
In the first publication, A New Era for Space Life Science: International Standards for Space Omics Processing: Stefania together with other consortium members addresses the unique technical and biological challenges in spaceflight research that represent obstacles in omics experiments.
Some examples of these challenges are; the restricted number of experimental replicates and variables for rodent and plant studies, which constrain statistical power and limit strain diversity; sample collection; and sample storage.
“ISSOP aims to provide concrete solutions to these issues in order to reduce confounding factors and promote harmonization and interoperability between space omics datasets,to increase accuracy of space omics studies. And to derive valid hypotheses and novel discoveries related to the effects of spaceflight on biological organisms such as humans, mice, plants and microbes”, she says.
“Furthermore, ISSOP is in a unique position to achieve these goals by being an international consortium and thus aware of the different regulations across the globe for flying samples to the International Space Station and provide standardization of the experimental procedures to collect omics data”, she continues.
Stefania Giacomello has also co-authored the report titled Revamping Space-omics in Europe. Focusing on European mammalian space omics research with the Space Omics Topical Team (Space Omics TT) initiative funded by ESA (European Space Agency).
“Here, we explain how the European space biology community aims to work closely with the NASA GeneLab, by using the extensive sample resource generated so far in order to advance European space biology omics studies”, she says.
Overall, ISSOP and Space Omics TT share several goals but at different scales, namely global and European. Together, they hope to advance biological technologies, therapeutics, and countermeasures to support life in space as well as improvements for life on Earth.
“Overall, the whole package describes the impacts of space flight on the organism level, and includes studies on twins, worms, telomere shortening, radiation and perhaps the most important to highlight, an article published in CELL on how spaceflight affects mitochondria through oxidative stress“, she explains.
Ongoing research at SciLifeLab
Stefania is also involved in an ongoing study at SciLifeLab, looking at the effects of microgravity on mammalian hearts where NBIS, SciLifeLab’s Bioinformatics platform, is contributing with bioinformatics data analysis.
“NASA provided the samples that my group is analyzing at SciLifeLab. The aim is to understand how space flight and microgravity affect the heart. We have mice hearts that were left on earth as controls and live mice that spent 40 days on the International Space Station“, she says.
To better understand the physiological changes caused by long-time exposure to microgravity and radiation during spaceflight, there is a need to apply novel omics techniques to gather data on transcriptomics, epigenomics, metabolomics, and proteomics.
“Consequently, we expect the generation of large datasets that will allow adopting a data-driven approach to study changes at the system level”, says Stefania Giacomello.
The CELL package