Sci-tech

Space travel may cause long-term change to DNA, says NASA's Twins Study

Space travel may cause long-term change to DNA, says NASA's Twins Study

But the Kelly brothers are still identical twins, NASA clarified Thursday evening.

An astronaut who spent a year in outer space no longer has matching DNA to his identical twin brother, the New York Post reported Wednesday.

Scott Kelly spent 340 days aboard the International Space Station between 2015 and 2016.

Live Science explained what really happened to Scott Kelly's gene was a change in the "expression" of his genes. It confirms preliminary findings that Kelly experienced changes to his gene expression - although experts say reports that Kelly's DNA changed in space are an exaggeration. We also saw changes with DNA fix, so his body actually dealing with some of the impacts of radiation.

So seven percent of Kelly's genes changed their expression - a pretty standard number for anyone under stress like a mountain climber or scuba diver, scientists said.

The findings are part of the Twins Study, which seeks to explore the physical and psychological effects of space travel. What changed was the transcription and translation of some of S. Kelly's genes.

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Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer and planetarium director at the Franklin Institute, told CBS News that understanding these factors becomes especially important when considering the potential for longer-term human space exploration and the health effects that could have on the body. Only 93 percent of Scott's genes returned to normal after landing.

"What's causing the ruckus, though, is that NASA found a shift in the way that Scott's genes were expressed". The changed genes were connected to his immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, hypoxia and hypercapnia. Again, these are changes in how the DNA makes proteins. "I used to have an identical twin brother". We know there are aspects of being in space that are not a pleasant experience, and this is the molecular manifestation of the body responding to that stress'.

Some changes included "cell-free" DNA in the blood, and changes in the telomeres, caps on the end of chromosomes which are involved in the ageing process.

Kelly's one-year mission is a scientific stepping stone to a planned three-year mission to Mars, NASA said. Scott didn't have to spend a year in space to establish his uniqueness.

- Scott's cognitive abilities in speed and accuracy slowed just slightly after the mission, "possibly due to re-exposure and adjustment to Earth's gravity", and his busy schedule after returning to Earth. All of these findings are being integrated and summarized by the research teams; researchers are also evaluating the possible impact that these findings will have on future space travel beyond low Earth orbit.


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