Cosmo Cassette: A Microfluidic Microgravity Microbial System For Synthetic Biology Unit Tests and Satellite Missions

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Aaron Berliner

NASA Ames Research Center, United States

Although methods in the design-build-test life cycle of the synthetic biology field have grown rapidly, the expansion has been non-uniform. The design and build stages in development have seen innovations in the form of biological CAD and more efficient means for building DNA, RNA, and other biological constructs. The testing phase of the cycle remains in need of innovation. Presented will be both a theoretical abstraction of biological measurement and a practical demonstration of a microfluidics-based platform for characterizing synthetic biological phenomena. Such a platform demonstrates a design of additive manufacturing (3D printing) for construction of a microbial fuel cell (MFC) to be used in experiments carried out in space. First, the biocompatibility of the polypropylene chassis will be demonstrated. The novel MFCs will be cheaper, and faster to make and iterate through designs. The novel design will contain a manifold switching/distribution system and an integrated in-chip set of reagent reservoirs fabricated via 3D printing. The automated nature of the 3D printing yields itself to higher resolution switching valves and leads to smaller sized payloads, lower cost, reduced power and a standardized platform for synthetic biology unit tests on Earth and in space. It will be demonstrated that the application of unit testing in synthetic biology will lead to the automatic construction and validation of desired constructs. Unit testing methodologies offer benefits of preemptive problem identification, change of facility, simplicity of integration, ease of documentation, and separation of interface from implementation, and automated design.