NASA says twin astronauts DNA now different after space travel

NASA Twins Study Verifies Long Term Health Effects of Space Travel

Astronaut twins Scott and Mark Kelly participated in NASA's Twins Study while Scott spent close to a year in space. Credit NASA

Identical twins are no longer genetically the same after astronaut Scott Kelly returned from space after spending a year. Scott, on the other hand, spent nearly a year orbiting the Earth on a mission that started in March 2015.

It is reportedly a "stepping stone" to an eventual three-year mission to Mars, NASA said.

Previous studies showed the effect on the body after the standard-duration six-month missions aboard the International Space Station (ISS). As the saying goes, science takes time.

Astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year in space and returned a changed man.

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Mark and Scott Kelly are identical twin brothers, to say the least, they were identical until Scott got the opportunity to spend a year in space.

The Twins Study, as it's been dubbed, looked at what happened to Kelly - both from a physiological and psychological perspective - before, during and after his trip in space, and then compared that data to Kelly's twin brother, Mark. A more comprehensive report will be released later this year. The researchers learned that spaceflight is associated with oxygen-deprivation stress, increased inflammation and dramatic nutrient shifts that affect gene expression.

But other changes persisted after six months.

The U.S. space agency's Twins Study represented a partnership between 10 individual investigations, 12 colleges and universities, NASA's biomedical labs and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute Consortium. "Whereas numerous people are talking about DNA changing are slightly misstating that".

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For example, researchers reported that Scott Kelly's telomeres-end caps of chromosomes that typically shorten as a person ages-became significantly longer while he was in space. This unexplained anomaly was verified with multiple assays and genomics testing. They shortened back to normal within two days of returning to Earth. But about 7% of the changes have remained in the two years since he returned to Earth. However, the remaining seven per cent point to possible longer term changes in genes related to his immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, hypoxia and hypercapnia.

The study shows that one of the more significant effects space had on Mr Kelly's cells was hypoxia, which is a deficiency in tissue oxygenation, which is likely the result of a lack of oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels.

NASA said that may have been due to re-exposure to Earth's gravity.

"This is the first experiment of its kind, so this sets the bar for future studies of astronaut health", Mason said.

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