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Space Biology Program


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Project Description

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The NASA GeneLab project aims to facilitate information sharing, foster innovation, and increase the pace of scientific discovery from rare and valuable space biology experiments. The 2011 National Research Council (NRC) Decadal Survey on NASA Life and Physical Sciences research called for increased opportunities for multi-investigator spaceflight opportunities and greater use of genomic approaches to meet the needs of NASA researchers. To address these recommendations, the Division of Biological and Physical Sciences (BPS) in the NASA Science Mission Directorate has initiated a transition to an Open Science architecture to increase research opportunities. Part of this architecture is the GeneLab project, which is based on principles of Open Science and FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) data and metadata standards, as well as integrated up-to-date bioinformatics analytics.

GeneLab helps scientists understand how the fundamental building blocks of life itself – DNA, RNA, proteins, and metabolites – change from exposure to microgravity, radiation, and other aspects of the space environment. GeneLab does so by providing fully coordinated omics (ie genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, and metabolomics data) data alongside essential metadata describing each spaceflight and space-relevant experiment. By carefully curating and implementing best practices for data standards, users can combine individual GeneLab datasets to gain new, comprehensive insights about the effects of spaceflight on biology.

GeneLab is the first comprehensive database in the world that hosts a growing collection of omics data generated from spaceflight and spaceflight analog experiments and interfaces with other existing databases containing spaceflight omics data. GeneLab’s database is a collection of information from biological experiments from 1995 to the present conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS), the retired space shuttle program, and multiple ground analog systems. GeneLab is an interactive, open-access resource where scientists can upload, download, store, search, share, transfer, and analyze omics data from spaceflight and analog experiments. Users can explore raw and processed data in the Data Repository, visualize and analyze high-order data via the Visualization Portal, and collaboratively upload and manage their data through the Biological Data Management Environment (BDME) at the Collaborative Workspace. Additionally, GeneLab has created Educational Resources that are publicly available to help drive research and invite educators along with their students at various skill levels to perform omics analysis using real data. This enables accessibility to an audience that might otherwise not have their own methods of data acquisition through wet labs or experimentation but are interested in participating in data analysis. 

GeneLab’s primary goal is to maximize the utilization of the valuable biological research conducted in space by generating and publishing omics data. Accordingly, GeneLab includes a state-of-the art sample processing and high-throughput sequencing laboratory—GeneLab Sample Processing Lab (SPL)—that uses standardized protocols to process the samples from NASA-funded experiments and generate raw omics data. Raw data are processed using standard pipelines that were established in collaboration with GeneLab’s Analysis Working Groups and processed data outputs are made available on the GeneLab repository. Processing samples and raw data in a consistent manner allows for more accurate comparisons of historic spaceflight data with recently generated data, and comparison of spaceflight analog experiments with actual spaceflight data.

In order to engage the scientific community and ensure that GeneLab is using the most relevant and up-to-date sample processing, library preparation, high-throughput sequencing, and data analysis protocols and pipelines, GeneLab established the Analysis Working Groups (AWG) established in 2018. The goal of the AWGs is to bring together a community of scientists to utilize the spaceflight and spaceflight analog datasets hosted on GeneLab to generate novel discoveries and hypothesis-driven, collaborative, follow-on investigations. The AWGs are composed of scientists with diverse backgrounds across government, industry, and academia and are subdivided into four main areas of expertise including plants, animals, microbes, and multi-omics/systems biology. GeneLab AWG members help establish consensus pipelines, discuss processed data generated from those pipelines, and analyze GeneLab data, which leads to published manuscripts summarizing new discoveries.

In 2022, GeneLab integrated with the Ames Life Sciences Data Archive (ALSDA) and the NASA Biological Institutional Scientific Collection to form the Open Science Data Repository (OSDR). The OSDR not only houses omics data, but also data from a range of non-omics assays including phenotypic, behavioral, and physiological, as well as non-human biorepository samples from previous experiments.

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