Genes in Space innovation challenge opens call for applications

Students invited to propose experiments using new gene analysis tools aboard the International Space Station

Cambridge, MA, January 19th, 2021 – Genes in Space, an annual competition that challenges students to solve sweeping problems faced by space travelers, opened a call for entries today. Each year, the contest invites students in grades 7-12 to design pioneering DNA experiments for the International Space Station (ISS), where one winning experiment is carried out by astronauts. Genes in Space is a collaboration between miniPCR bio and Boeing with additional support from the ISS U.S. National Laboratory and New England Biolabs®.

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Genes in Space asks students to design original DNA experiments that address real-life challenges and opportunities in space exploration. In drafting their proposals, contestants must make use of the Genes in Space Toolkit, a suite of biotechnology tools available aboard the ISS. This year will see an expansion of the Toolkit as two new tools, the BioBits® cell-free system and P51™ molecular fluorescence viewer, are readied for launch to the space station.


The tools will open up new possibilities for molecular biology research aboard the ISS. The P51™ fluorescence viewer offers a fast and simple way to observe experimental results. Cell-free systems like BioBits® enable on-demand synthesis of biomolecules like vaccines or therapeutics without the need for living cells or specialized equipment, making them ideal for use in research environments like the ISS, where space and resources are limited.

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“On Earth, cell-free technology has opened up so many possibilities to produce biologics and other proteins on-demand,” said Dr. Ally Huang, co-creator of the BioBits® system. “With the limited resources in space, this technology could be very powerful in advancing biological research, and we are thrilled to see students use this tool to design experiments that might have previously been impossible.”

Since the founding of the contest in 2015, Genes in Space has launched seven student experiments to the ISS. Winning students have been responsible for significant space biology milestones; their experiments have led to the first polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and first use of CRISPR gene-editing technology in space.

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“Over the last five years, it has been remarkable to see what students have been able to accomplish through our competition,” said Boeing’s Scott Copeland, co-founder of Genes in Space. “This year, as they deploy our new tools, we know they will continue to make significant advances toward a future of sustainable deep space exploration.”

The Genes in Space competition will close on April 12th, 2021. Participation is free and does not require specialized equipment.

Learn more:

Media contacts:

miniPCR bio: Emily Gleason,, 781-990-8727

Boeing: Carrie Arnold,, 281-226-4872

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