NASA SBIR 2005 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER:05 X11.02-9634
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Human Health Countermeasures
PROPOSAL TITLE:Monitoring Microbes in the Spacecraft Environment by Mass Spectrometry of Ribosomal RNA

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
BioTex, Inc.
8058 El Rio St.
Houston ,TX 77054 - 4185
(713) 741 - 0111

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
George  W. Jackson
8058 El Rio St.
Houston, TX  77054 -4185
(713) 741 - 0111

The unique stresses in the spacecraft environment including isolation, containment, weightlessness, increased radiation exposure, and enhanced microbial contamination have resulted in a compromise of the immune system in every human or animal that has ever flown in space. Identifying and monitoring the microbial population in the spacecraft environment has therefore been identified as a key maintaining crew health on extended missions. While molecular methods are rapidly supplanting phenotypic identification of micro-organisms, the most successful rapid approaches have employed organism-specific nucleic acid "probes" or primers for PCR amplification. Identification by nucleic acid hybridization therefore implies a priori knowledge (or at least suspicion) of a putative organism. Such assays (including DNA microarrays) are therefore limited in generality by the number of probes or primers on hand. Sequencing of DNA is more general but time consuming and problematic in microgravity. This project describes an "open" or exploratory system with no such limitation which is also superior in speed to DNA sequencing. By leveraging the wealth of publicly available ribosomal RNA sequences for thousands of bacterial strains, and rapid mass spectrometry of novel, mass-modified RNA fragments, the system can identify bacterial species in complex organism mixtures and report their relative abundances. The technology is amenable to high-throughput automated analysis of over 200 samples in less than 2 hours and is compatible with any sample type from which total DNA can be isolated.

Development of the technology will allow NASA to achieve its goals of successful human space exploration and characterize the microbial population in spacecraft as it changes over time. The technology can be readily expanded to identification of viruses and eukaryotes as increasing sequence information on these organisms becomes available. In addition to maintaining crew health, development of the technology will also further NASA's exobiology goals. Because the technology is "exploratory", the genetic affinity of organisms never encountered before can be rapidly determined. In Phase II, collaboration with developers of miniaturized biological mass spectrometers and a novel, convection-based PCR device will allow development of a prototype system of reasonable size for spaceflight.

In addition to NASA's unique goals, the development of new microbial diagnostics has broad overlap and technology transfer implications for other applications. The method will find application in a variety of markets including clinical diagnostics, biodefense and monitoring of large populated facilities such as airports and government buildings, municipal water supplies, and pharmaceutical manufacturing. Nucleic acid diagnostics sales are currently estimated at over $2 billion annually and projected to increase 10-fold in the next 5 to 10 years. Finally, biological mass spectrometers are increasingly common, steadily improving in terms of resolution and accuracy, and will eventually become miniaturized and portable.

NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.

Air Revitalization and Conditioning
Biomedical and Life Support
Biomolecular Sensors
Sterilization/Pathogen and Microbial Control
Waste Processing and Reclamation

Form Printed on 09-19-05 13:12