Spatial and Multi-Omic Profiling of Skin and Blood During Human Spaceflight

  • 8:00 am (PDT)
Speakers: Christopher E. Mason, Ph.D.


Despite the battery of human spaceflight data from NASA, ESA, and other missions, our understanding of the biology of spaceflight is still incomplete and spans only a few dozen individuals. Current data has shown that spaceflight causes changes in cell signaling, immune function, and tissue regulation, but such alterations could be better understood with more modern molecular methods. To help address this gap in knowledge, the Inspiration4 mission (deployed on the SpaceX Dragon Capsule) leveraged genome, epigenome, transcriptome, proteome, microbiome, metabolome, exosome, telomere, single-cell V(D)J immunophenotyping, and epitope profiling for the astronauts, as well as single-nucleus, multiome sequencing and multi-omic spatial mapping (human and microbial). We were able to clearly dissect the gene expression changes from spaceflight occurring at the single-cell level, particularly for concomitant chromatin (scATAC-seq) and expression (scRNA-seq) changes for macrophages, neutrophils, and CD4 T-cells, and we also mapped the first-ever in vivo human-microbial interaction maps from spaceflight (on the NanoString GeoMx® Digital Spatial Profiling platform). The single-cell data showed that interleukin-6 (IL-6) was elevated in flight and post-flight, which is consistent with the response to zero gravity seen in other crew members. Also, our metagenome data showed a “blending” of the skin microbiome for the crew within the first two days of the mission (Shannon and beta-diversity down by 0.2), particularly with rapid transfer of Caulobacter soli and other commensal species, indicating a rapid transfer of skin flora to other crew in the confines of the Dragon space capsule.

Christopher E. Mason, Ph.D.

Professor; Director, WorldQuant Initiative for Quantitative Prediction

Physiology and Biophysics, Weill Cornell Medicine

Speaker’s Bio

Dr. Christopher Mason is an Associate Professor of Genomics, Physiology, and Biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine and the Director of the WorldQuant Initiative for Quantitative Prediction, as well as an affiliate of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), Rockefeller University, Harvard Medical School, and Yale Law School. The Mason laboratory develops and deploys new biochemical and computational methods in functional genomics to elucidate the genetic basis of human disease and physiology. We create and deploy novel techniques in next-generation sequencing and algorithms for: tumor evolution, genome evolution, DNA and RNA modifications, and genome/epigenome engineering. We also work closely with NIST/FDA to build international standards for these methods (SEQC2, IMMSA, and Epigenomics QC groups), to ensure clinical-quality genome measurements and editing. We also work with NASA to build integrated molecular portraits of genomes, epigenomes, transcriptomes, and metagenomes for astronauts, which help establish the molecular foundations and genetic defenses for enabling long-term human spaceflight. He has won the NIH’s Transformative R01 Award, the NASA Group Achievement Award, the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance Young Investigator award, the Hirschl-Weill-Caulier Career Scientist Award, the Vallee Scholar Award, the CDC Honor Award for Standardization of Clinical Testing, and the WorldQuant Foundation Scholar Award. He was named as one of the “Brilliant Ten” Scientists by Popular Science, featured as a TEDMED speaker, and called “The Genius of Genetics” by 92Y. He has >200 peer-reviewed papers and scholarly works that have been featured on the covers of Nature, Science, Cell, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Microbiology, and Neuron, as well as legal briefs cited by the U.S. District Court and U.S. Supreme Court. Coverage of his work has also appeared on the covers of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, TIME, The LA Times, and across many media.