A NASA twin study shows that space can change the human DNA sometimes irreversibly. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly spent 340 days in space on a single mission and his DNA looks different than his twin brother Mark Kelly’s who stayed on Earth.
Scott spent nearly a year on the International Space Station, a space laboratory populated by astronauts from multiple nations, which orbits Earth. NASA discovered that the two twins had different responses to simulated space environment. And this was because Scott’s DNA morphed during his ISS stay. Both Mark Kelly and Scott Kelly (pictured) are NASA astronauts.
A research paper detailing the findings is slated for release by the end of the year. DNA sequencing of both twins’ DNA revealed that Scott’s telomeres were longer than Mark’s upon his return home.
Telomeres are bits of DNA that protect chromosomes from damage. The telomeres returned to normal, though, after two days on Earth. The NASA team believes that the changes may be due to Scott’s strict diet and workout routine during his time on the ISS.
NASA Looking for the ‘Space Gene’
NASA thinks that there may be a ‘space gene’ that appears when an astronaut spends too much time in microgravity. The study shows that 7% of Kelly’s DNA underwent irreversible changes while in space. Researchers couldn’t explain the changes. They can only speculate.
A common hypothesis is that the body is exposed to stress factors in space that leads to DNA changes. For instance, the food is different, there is microgravity and space radiation, there’s also the risks of increased inflammation and oxygen deprivation. And the genes seem to be affected.
NASA’s twin study tries to shed light on how space can alter the human body since a U.S. manned mission to Mars is in the making.
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