Astronaut's DNA no longer identical to twin after year in space

Faith Castro
March 19, 2018

That's more than would be expected, but nowhere near enough to make the duo "no longer identical twins".

US Nasa astronauts and identical twins Scott and Mark Kelly have shared a lot in their extraordinary lives. Astronaut Scott Kelly spent 340 days aboard the International Space Station, which is twice as long as astronauts have spent up there. A twin study has now discovered that spending 1 year in space causes considerable changes in an astronaut's genes, altering DNA by almost 7 percent.

"This is thought to be from the stresses of space travel, which can cause changes in a cell's biological pathways and ejection of DNA and RNA".

This kind of change is what's known as epigenetic, and it is something very different.

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. However, the agency's choice of words may have made it sound like Scott's DNA was permanently altered.

Living in space is not the same as living on earth as it not only changes the outlook of a person but transforms gene expression too. "NASA and the other researchers collaborating on these studies expect to announce more comprehensive results on the twins studies this summer". We are at the beginning of our understanding of how space flight affects the molecular level of the human body. "Who knew? I just learned about it in this article", wrote Scott Kelly, who linked to a Newsweek article in a tweet on March 10.

"Although 93% of genes" expression returned to normal postflight, a subset of several hundred "space genes' were still disrupted after return to Earth", the update read.

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The findings showed that after returning to Earth, Scott started the process of readapting to Earth's gravity. That means his DNA has the same sequence it had before, but what his cells get from the DNA has changed.

Spending a year in space not only changes your outlook, it transforms your gene expression.

The NASA doctors found they stretched while he was in space and then shrank to their original lengths when he returned to Earth.

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. However, the remaining 7% point to possible longer term changes in genes related to his immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia.

All humans experience changes to their gene expression when they're under stress, such as while mountain climbing or scuba diving. Scott didn't have to spend a year in space to establish his uniqueness.

In addition to Kelly's extensive time in space, there's also the benefit of him being a twin.

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