NASA engineers refer to the Wyatt Lab space-flown seeds experiment as BRIC-20. “BRIC” is a NASA acronym meaning biological research in canisters and refers to the hardware the experiment is sealed in for the duration of the space flight. BRICs were developed to ensure that the contents of an experiment are contained and not allowed to escape during flight because containing a spill in space is – as you can imagine – quite difficult.
The BRIC-20 experiment requires Arabidopsis seeds germinate on sterile plates (or petri dishes) for 72 hours in space before being “fixed” with RNAlater to halt germination. The plates are placed in petri dish fixture units (PDFUs) as shown below. The PDFUs are loaded into the BRIC which can hold up to six PDFUs) and then sealed. NASA engineers refer to the placing of the plated seeds into the PDFUs and then BRIC as “integrating the science.” Similarly, when the BRICs return to Earth and the plates of seedlings are removed to be shipped to the Wyatt Lab for analysis, NASA engineers call this “de-integrating the science.”
Figure 1 – A sealed BRIC unit with two PDFU units – one sealed and the other open with its petri dish (or plate) contents exposed (Photo: NASA)
Figure 2 – Fixative actuator connected to BRIC hardware (Photo: NASA)
After the seeds have been allowed to germinate 72 hours in space, researchers aboard the International Space Station (ISS) use a specialized actuator to release RNAlater fixative onto the seed plates to halt seed germination (Figure 2 above). The actuator is a mechanical device that actuates the fixative sealed inside the PDFUs to disperse on the plate. The design of the BRIC system keeps the experiment sealed in a microenvironment while allowing researchers outside the container to trigger events without risking contamination to the experiment or ISS environment.