Space travel may cause long-term change to DNA, reveals NASA's Twin Study

Space travel may cause long-term change to DNA, reveals NASA's Twin Study

Space travel may cause long-term change to DNA, reveals NASA's Twin Study

Astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a full year in space as part of a groundbreaking NASA mission, is no longer an exact genetic match with his identical twin brother Mark Kelly, according to a new study. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration used this knowledge to conduct an experiment, hoping to learn if space travel effected human DNA on a fundamental level.

"Scott's telomeres (endcaps of chromosomes that shorten as one ages) actually became significantly longer in space", NASA researchers wrote in a statement.

But Scott Kelly, the US Space Agency astronaut who broke any record of staying at the International Space Station, changed a little.

They gathered the evidence after looking at "large numbers" of proteins (chains of amino acids), cytokines (substances secreted by cells in the immune system) and metabolites (substances related to metabolism) in Scott's body.

As such, the Twin Study was intrinsic to NASA's efforts to prepare for its proposed "Journey to Mars", which is expected to take place sometime in the 2030s.

Kelly spent 340 straight days aboard the International Space Station from 2015 to 2016.

However, some changes persisted for six months.

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"Another interesting find concerned what some call the 'space gene, '" the Administration said.

Findings show that about 93 percent of the changes in his genes were temporary and Kelly's genetic profile returned to normal after he came back to Earth.

The changes could signify long-term impact to the immune system, DNA fix, and bone formation networks, as well as hypoxia (oxygen deficiency in tissues) and hypercapnia (excessive carbon dioxide in the bloodstream).

Results from the study were released in January at the 2018 Investigator's Workshop for Nasa's Human Research Programme. The team is seeing small signs of a few genuine DNA mutations in Scott Kelly, Mason said, which are still under study. However, most of the telomeres returned to normal lengths within two days of Scott's return to Earth.

These and other studies being conducted aboard the ISS seek to determine what the long-term effects on astronaut health will be, and how they can be mitigated. So they chose to run some tests and compare Scott's DNA to his brother's after spending some time in space, and they were pretty surprised by the results.

The researchers began combining the data and reviewing the enormous amount of information looking for correlations, especially to gain insight into the changes space travel has or can have on the human body.

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