NASA Study Finds Astronaut's Genes Changed While In Space

Mark and Scott Kelly

Identical twin astronauts, Scott and Mark Kelly, are subjects of NASA's Twins Study.

According to Nasa (America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration), Kelly was part of a twins study to figure out how a year in space affected the body. Mark remained on Earth, while Scott was on the International Space Station.

As the space agency explained on its website in recent weeks, scientists observed some changes to Kelly's gene expression, most of which returned to normal within hours to weeks of his return home.

Some of the most exciting things that we've seen from looking at gene expression in space is that we really see an explosion, like fireworks taking off, as soon as the human body gets into space.

"Kelly's base DNA didn't actually change by seven percent during his time in space".

"Mark and Scott Kelly are still identical twins; Scott's DNA did not fundamentally change". What changed was the transcription and translation of some of S. Kelly's genes.

The effects of long-term space travel are still murky, but it's something we'll need to understand if humanity is ever going to take a trip to Mars and beyond.

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The changes that were found to be longer lasting have to do with Kelly's immune system, bone formation, his response to low-oxygen environments and other gene expressions, NASA said in a statement.

About 93 per cent of the changes reverted to preflight levels within six months of Scott's return to Earth. He's recently come out with an analysis of all those samples showing one effect of Scott's year in outer space. "So that would make a major change in how we think about exploring the solar system, exploring space, and a change in understanding who we are and what we can do as explorers".

Mr. Humphries clarified that no twins are 100 percent identical, and that "over time they tend to become less identical, just like every human being".

By measuring large numbers of metabolites, cytokines and proteins in Scott's body the team learnt that spaceflight is associated with oxygen deprivation stress, increased inflammation and dramatic nutrient shifts that affect gene expression. We know there are aspects of being in space that are not a pleasant experience, and this is the molecular manifestation of the body responding to that stress'.

The changes occurred in Kelly's telomere - a cap of genetic material at the end of each chromosome.

NASA says research like this is needed before astronauts are sent on journeys like a planned three-year mission to Mars. They returned to normal within two days of landing back on Earth. However, it does give researchers further insights into how the body reacts to space.

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