Genes change in space — NASA twin study

14 Avril, 2019, 12:24 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • NASA twin study: Genes change in space

In 2015, Kelly rode a rocket into space and spent almost a year on the International Space Station in low Earth orbit, while his identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, stayed on Earth's surface for NASA's celebrated "twins study", created to see what spaceflight does to the human body.

Astronauts Scott Kelly with his brother, Astronaut Mark Kelly. Image credit: Derek Storm,

The Twins Study has been an important step toward understanding epigenetics and gene expression in human spaceflight. The astronaut was supposed to spend a year on the ISS, and the space agency would compare his development to his twin brother on Earth.

Initial results from the study were released both in 2017 and 2018. It also showed that only a small percentage of gene expression did not return to baseline.

Persistent changes were observed in a few other areas, including some cognitive function.

Though at this time its Twins Study has a subject of only 1, the data remains priceless.

Telomeres can be thought of as the protective caps at the end of our DNA strands that protect the ends from degrading and stop DNA from producing inappropriate responses to damage, which can lead to development of cancerous cells.

However, many rapidly decreased in length after the flight, and he now has more short telomeres than long ones.

"Scott's telomeres were longer during spaceflight than they were either before or after", Bailey said. How this will impact exactly on the body and how long any changes will remain in place, however, is largely unclear.

One of the changes Green and his group noticed was a shift during flight in the ratio of two dominant phyla of bacteria: the Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes.

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The samples from Scott during the flight were collected on the space station when shipments from Earth arrived on a Soyuz rocket and, that same day, shipped back to Earth on the rocket so that the samples could be processed within 48 hours. The telomere lengthening, as previously reported, returned to normal when Scott returned to Earth.

Scott's DNA appeared to suffer damage as a result of exposure to infrared radiation galactic cosmic radiation in space.

A number of key findings have been detailed in NASA's study, including information about the effects space had on Scott Kelly's telomeres. The human body, apparently, can withstand long-duration space missions.

Some of these effects persisted after his time in space but many subsided in the following six months. And the intestinal flora is changed not more than this is also observed on earth under stress conditions. Samples of blood, plasma, urine, and stool were also collected from the twins. These data support the fact that nutrition plays an important role in all aspects of health in space and on Earth. This could be due to the food he consumed while on the space station (mainly freeze-dried or thermo-stabilized prepackaged food) although other space-specific environmental factors may have also contributed.

NASA has a rigorous training process to prepare astronauts for their missions, including a thoroughly planned lifestyle and work regime while in space, and an excellent rehabilitation and reconditioning program when they return to Earth. Observing how much Scott's gut bacteria returned to normal was reassuring.

"This is not the environment that the astronauts are going to be facing when they go to Mars", Feinberg said, noting that the International Space Station is close enough to Earth to shield it from deep space radiation. The scientists found Scott experienced epigenetic changes inflight, but the degree of changes was no greater than Mark's on Earth. Several months later, some telomeres were even shorter. Basically, the genes the carrying out of instructions in a cell's genome had altered slightly and that these changes were still observable six months after his return.

NASA has more on humans in space.

The study will help scientists better understand the changes astronauts undergo during long-term space travel, crucial knowledge as NASA contemplates human expeditions to the Moon and Mars.

About 40 percent of astronauts experience these sort of vision changes, said Lee. AQP2 regulates water reabsorption in the body and is a useful indicator of hydration or dehydration status. Interestingly, some of these markers were elevated in Mark as well.

"This paper is the first report of this highly integrated study that began five years ago when the investigators first gathered. We look forward to the publication of additional analyses and follow-up studies with future crew members as we continue to improve our ability to live and work in space and venture forward to the Moon and on to Mars".


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