The Boy Scouts of America offer more than 100 merit badges for youth development. Currently, there is not a merit badge for microgravity research in space—but one group of scouts is certainly making the case for a new badge. A team of young researchers in the Chicago area is designing an experiment that will study how bacteria mutate in space.
The research team is comprised of 21 members, both boys and girls, who are involved in the STEM Scouts program. STEM Scouts is a coed program of the Boy Scouts of America that offers a scouting experience focused on helping young people grow in character and skills as they explore STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
The team hypothesizes that microgravity will alter the spontaneous rate of mutation in bacteria when compared with a control experiment on the ground. Previous studies have shown that the gene expression of bacteria and other cells is altered by microgravity and that, in some cases, a bacteria’s virulence (ability to infect a host and cause disease) is increased. The STEM Scouts experiment will dive deeper into thisresearch area by conducting a modified “Ames test” in space—a test that uses bacteria to determine whether certain chemicals can cause mutations in DNA.
The STEM Scouts hope their experiment will provide further insight into cell biology and help scientists better understand how cells of all kinds—not just bacteria—evolve and respond to the environment. These insights could be helpful in understanding cell mutation as it relates to various diseases, such as cancer.
The STEM Scouts project was selected as part of the National Design Challenge competition—an ISS National Lab education program that enables student teams to propose, design, and fly to space authentic research experiments.
The project, aptly named “Our Team Ames for Space,” underwent a critical design review in early June—a major milestone in the spaceflight research process. The team members presented their experimental design and updated the CASIS Operations team on their progress while receiving valuable mentoring from spaceflight research experts.
“This project marks the launch of an exciting new partnership between CASIS and the Boy Scouts of America,” said Ken Shields, director of education at CASIS. “We hope that the Boy Scouts of America will become a long-term ISS National Lab education partner and help us connect even more new student communities to space science.”