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Journey of molecular genetics in space

“I stand as a testament that if you ever thought that space is not accessible for life sciences research, think again.” – Prof. Joseph Borg – Academic and Principal Investigator at the University of Malta

“I have entered the space race around about November / December of 2020. During those months, I struck a conversation over LinkedIn with a member of staff at Space Applications Services. At the same time a very exciting set of publications were made public on the journal CELL about the biology of spaceflight. Somehow, somewhere I knew that all of my knowledge related to DNA, genetics and molecular biology and the ability to understand life as we know – has its progenitor source in space.

I made contact with some of the authors in the CELL collection of articles, and the result is what you see here. It’s something that one would relate to a calling perhaps? I don’t know yet. But the force is strong. I can confirm. The people, the scientists and colleagues that I forged over the past year in the field of space bioscience is nothing short of amazing. The multi-disciplinary aspect that this field of science brings to the lab is something out of this world. I wasn’t well versed with the availabilities of science platforms for space, especially from a country such as Malta who had never sent an experiment to the International Space Station before Project Maleth.

I was impressed with the high quality service available to get my design and idea of experiment to space and was immediately attracted to the company.  I was told, that the minimum amount to get ones’ idea from earth to space is usually 9 months, and in fact… from Project Maleth idea to space that is how much it took. We capitalised on every day, every week, and month available to us until the very day of launch itself. The journey entailed from biocube design, assembly, manufacture, testing and quality control, dispatch and monitor all throughout the timeline of the experiment itself until return back to earth. It’s impressive, and amazing actually – what could be achieved. The timing is impressively fast turn-around-time, I was already designing the second mission under the Maleth Program whilst the first mission was barely back on earth.

The calls, meetings, and discussions with members of the ICE Cubes team are second to none, with both serious and light moments along the way. The professional manner how all administrative and scientific matters are dealt, between space agencies such as ESA, NASA and liaising with the launch service provider as well cannot be better.

months from first project idea to launch

Watch the AIBC interview (February, 2023) with Prof. Borg:

I stand as a testament that if you ever thought that space is not accessible for life sciences research, think again. It really is accessible, and the journey itself can be extremely rewarding let alone analysing novel sets of data obtained from space direct.

I now pride myself, that I can contribute to data bases and repositories such as those housed at NASA Gene Lab and following the guide such as those presented by the International Standards for Space Omics Processing.

For the near-future, I already have a number of missions falling under the same Maleth Program that I wish to continue sending to space using the ICECubes platform, and not excluding modifications and updates to existing cube design which together with my research team will continue to produce. The modular concept of ICE Cubes is ingenious and is surely something that we are looking into very closely.

The future logical step beyond low-earth orbit, is Moon and Mars. Life sciences on the Moon and Mars will not take place on their own. They require designed experiments, scientifically sound and innovative. I stand proud to be pushing the next boundaries of this exciting new field to promote not the best, but the excellent science that this might provide. True excellence will be quantified by following space for space applications, and space for earth applications. What ever is done to promote and strengthen the resolve to venture deeper and farther into space, must be equally balanced by improving the health of our life and ecosystem here on earth. There is no second Earth, at least, not until we make one and deliver on the promise of becoming multi-planetary species.

Space is for everyone, there are no barriers in space and it should remain so. Those who promote accessibility to space should be lauded and praised, and those who make use of it, further encouraged. The future is bright, let’s make sure it remains that way so that it can continue guiding us with best vision and clarity.” – Prof. Joseph Borg (February, 2022)


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