• TSoG senior Jennifer Pearson was awarded an honorable mention for her proposal to the Genes in Space competition! Each year middle and high school students from across the country submit PCR-based experiment proposals to Genes in Space. The experiments must utilize the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and address a unique challenge or opportunity presented by spaceflight. Students can submit their proposals individually or in teams. The winning proposal is carried out by astronauts on the International Space Station. 2017 marked the competition’s third year, with 375 submitted proposals from nearly 850 students. 5 finalists and 10 honorable mentions were selected based on scientific rigor and creativity. 

    Jennifer, who has been a student in the TSoG Mentorship Program since its inception in 2015, submitted an individual proposal on the use of probiotics during space flight to improve astronaut health. Currently astronauts’ food and environment is kept as near sterile as possible, despite growing research on the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiota especially during periods of stress. Part of the reason for this is the unpredictable effects space flight can have on microorganisms. It has been found that cosmic radiation and microgravity increase the mutation rate of bacteria, often leading to pathogenic bacteria becoming more dangerous. However, less is known about how this environment effects beneficial bacteria like the probiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus. Jennifer’s proposal was to grow Lactobacillus acidophilus in space, then use PCR and sequencing to investigate changes in the genes associated with probiotic activity, pathogenicity, and antibiotic resistance. This type of experiment deeper our understanding of how space effects microorganisms and pave the way for probiotic use in space.

    Jennifer’s prize for the award included a t-shirt, certificate, medal, and a miniPCR DNA Discovery System for the TSoG lab. The miniPCR DNA Discovery system, which retails for $990, includes a micropipette, miniPCR thermal cycler, and blueGel electrophoresis system. This equipment will enable the TSoG lab to increase the number of students that are able to carry out PCR experiments at one time and will be used in summer programs, Mentorship classes, and future outreach events. Good job Jennifer, we are so proud of you!

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