Winning DNA experiment will be performed aboard the International Space Station
21 November 2016, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Five finalist teams have been announced in the first UAE Genes in Space™ challenge – an initiative by The UAE Space Agency, The National and Boeing. The finalists were congratulated on their achievements during a special gala dinner, held in their honor during UAE Innovation Week. The competition called on students to submit a proposal for an original DNA experiment that would be conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The five finalists were selected from more than 110 entries, involving 225 students from across the UAE. Entrants were encouraged to propose an experiment that utilized polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology - a method of making multiple copies of a DNA sequence. Submissions had to include a clear explanation on how the experiment would be conducted within the unique environment provided on the ISS. Entries were judged across four criteria covering the hypothesis of the experiment, as well as the creativity of its design. Students could enter alone or in a group of up to four people.
The five finalist submissions included investigations to protect astronaut DNA from radiation damage, engineer biological medicines in space, and assess the impacts of microgravity on human physiology.
Rashed Murooshid, Acting Editor in Chief of The National: “We would like to offer a very warm congratulations to the five finalist teams on their incredible entries. The National is extremely proud to support such a prestigious and worthy competition that inspires a generation of young people to get involved in space science. We believe that the competition perfectly demonstrates just how much fun science can be, and this is reflected in the passionate work submitted by the finalists.
We wish the teams every success in the next stage of the challenge and hope that their work motivates other young people to take a keen interest in space exploration.”
The successful teams will receive international mentoring from scientists at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and local mentoring arranged by Khalifa University, a sponsor of the competition. The teams will be invited to present their proposals at the Global Space Congress in Abu Dhabi on 31st January, where the overall winner will be announced. Members of the winning team will travel to the United States in 2017 to watch their experiment be rocket-launched into space where astronauts will conduct the experiment aboard the ISS.
H.E. Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency commented: “On behalf of the UAE Space Agency, we would like to congratulate the young finalists on their fantastic contributions in this competition. It’s ideas and creativity such as what we have seen in this contest that will help develop the next wave of scientists and space leaders in years to come. Our aim is to continue to support and nurture talent which will help continue growing the space industry in the UAE and in building a knowledge based economy.”
The competition was established to help younger generations contribute to Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 and UAE Vision 2021 by nurturing a culture of scientific excellence within the UAE. The challenge also highlights collaboration amongst schools and scientists, whilst exposing students to career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Genes in Space UAE brings attention to the benefits of space exploration and provides opportunities to excite the next generation,” said Peter McGrath, director, Global Sales & Marketing, Boeing Space Exploration. “The intelligence and ingenuity of these students is encouraging for the future generation that will keep humanity exploring the far reaches of our solar system and beyond.”
The finalists, with their ages listed in parentheses, include:
- Karun Isaac (14), from Gems Modern Academy in Dubai, aims to protect astronauts from cognitive decline by studying space-induced changes in brain gene expression.
- Alia Almansoori (14), from Al Mawakeb School Al Barsha in Dubai, whose goal is to study protein expression changes that might help protect astronauts from unwanted cell death.
- Haneefah Badar (14), from Brighton College in Abu Dhabi, seeks new avenues to prevent bone loss during deep space missions, with potential implications for osteoporosis in space and on Earth.
- Zack Rahaman (13) and Nikhil Potula (13), from Brighton College Al Ain, will explore the potential for bioengineered proteins from tardigrades (microscopic aquatic animals that can thrive in space) to protect human genomes.
- Wilson Huijsmans (14), Matteo Sottocornola (15), and Akio Shirali (13), from Cranleigh Abu Dhabi seek to enhance the production of genetically engineered proteins and peptides in space, which may ultimately facilitate the production of medicines in space.