Astronaut Describes Experiences Aboard ISS, Sequencing DNA in Space

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins interviews NASA astronaut and biologist Dr. Kate Rubins on stage in Masur Auditorium on DNA Day, Apr. 25.
NIH director Dr. Francis Collins interviews NASA astronaut and biologist Dr. Kate Rubins on stage in Masur Auditorium on DNA Day, Apr. 25.

If it weren’t for an NIH grant application, NASA astronaut and biologist Dr. Kate Rubins would never have been the first person to sequence DNA in space.

“I was writing an R01 [grant application] when my friend called me and said there are astronaut applications online,” she recounted during a talk at Masur Auditorium on Apr. 25. “And it turned out to be an excellent procrastination tool for grant writing.”

She spoke about her 115-day stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS). NIH director Dr. Francis Collins then joined her on stage for a conversation that was beamed universe-wide to whoever’s out there on NIH’s Facebook page. This was their second conversation; the first was last Oct. 18, when the two conducted a “space chat” as Rubins orbited 220 miles above Earth.

Rubins’ visit to NIH was part of National DNA Day, which commemorates the successful completion of the Human Genome Project and the discovery of DNA’s double helix.

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Belkaid Describes Intimate Man-Bug Partnership

Dr.
Yasmine Belkaid

Time was when you had to go outside your own skin to confront “the other.” That all went out the window when the human microbiota—our passengers throughout birth, life and death—was discovered to exert an enormous effect on health.

According to Dr. Yasmine Belkaid, who gave the annual Rolla E. Dyer Lecture on Apr. 26, the microbes that inhabit us—from the skin-side in—contribute 100 times the effect on our physiology as our own genome.

Belkaid, who is director of the Microbiome Program at NIAID and chief of the mucosal immunology section in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, spoke on “The primary shield: role of our microbes in health and diseases.”

Humans have co-evolved with their microbial partners, she explained. Owing to the technological advances of the past 10 years, scientists have determined the deepening extent to which microbiota control host physiology.

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