They Had the Same DNA. Then One Spent a Year in Space

NASA Twins Study Verifies Long Term Health Effects of Space Travel

After a year at the International Space Station - the longest time an American has spent outside our planet - NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth with changes in his DNA At first glance astronaut Scott Kelly and his brother Mark look exactly the same.

Most of Scott's genes did indeed return to normal after a brief time back here on Earth, but not all of them.

NASA is pointing to the "stresses of space travel" as the factor behind a fascinating phenomenon involving the only pair of identical twin astronauts in history.

But Scott Kelly, the US Space Agency astronaut who broke any record of staying at the International Space Station, changed a little. A mission to Mars, however, could take three years. 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. And while data from the 12-month expedition will help in formulating current assessments of crew performance and health, as well as validate countermeasures to reduce the risks associated with future exploration, the HRP also conducted a comparative study on the genetic effects of spaceflight with Scott's twin brother Mark as the ground control subject.

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"Oftentimes, when the body encounters something foreign, an immune response is activated", Christopher Mason, a Twins Study researcher and associate professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, told Business Insider.

The researchers linked space travel to oxygen deprivation stress, increased inflammation and striking nutrient shifts that affect gene expression.

The Twins Study Investigators came from around the country to meet and share their final research results at the annual Human Research Program Investigators' Workshop held in Galveston, Texas in January 2018. As it turns out, space really does change us, and upon Scott's return to Earth it was discovered that his DNA has significantly changed. Some changes returned to baseline within hours or days of landing, while a few persisted after six months. Further testing confirmed this change, and revealed that most of the telomeres had shortened again within just two days of his return. According to researchers, around 7% of Scott Kelly's genes have shown long-lasting changes when compared to his brother's. The altered 7 percent, however, could indicate long-term changes in genes connected to the immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, oxygen deprivation and elevated carbon dioxide levels. This summary is set to be released later this year.


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