A Year in Space Changed 7% of This Astronaut's DNA

Terry Joseph
March 16, 2018

A new study from NASA has found that astronaut Scott Kelly's genes are no longer identical to those of his identical twin after spending a year in space.

Publishing its latest findings, NASA said the formerly identical twins are not longer genetically the same. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration used this knowledge to conduct an experiment, hoping to learn if space travel effected human DNA on a fundamental level.

Spending a year in space not only changes your outlook, it could change some of your genes.

Kelly spent 340 days on the worldwide space station.

Researchers learned that spaceflight is associated with oxygen deprivation stress, increased inflammation, and dramatic nutrient shifts that affect gene expression.

The only identical twin astronauts in history, the Kellys provided a flawless opportunity for a nature-versus-nurture study.

The microbiome changed drastically for Scott Kelly while in space, including a decrease in Bacteroidetes bacteria. "We now know with certainty that staying in space is a very unpleasant experience for the human organism, who is trying to respond to extreme conditions", scientists say on United States news networks.

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About 93% of the changes were temporary, with Kelly's genetic profile returning to normal comparatively quickly after his return to Earth; in the case of the telomeres, the lengthening vanished within 48 hours.

According to NASA, the Human Research Program responsible for this "supports innovative, scientific human research by funding more than 300 research grants to respected universities, hospitals, and NASA centers to over 200 researchers in more than 30 states".

Scott's cognitive performance was also slightly affected during the one-year mission, with NASA measuring a decrease in speed and accuracy compared to his brother once he returned.

The transformation of 7 percent of Scott's DNA suggests longer-term changes in genes related to at least five biological pathways and functions. Once again using mice, the study found that stress did indeed contribute to shortening telomeres and that this happening is perhaps a metabolic reaction to stress. The goal of his long stay on the ISS was to study changes in the body in space. Scott and Mark have identical DNA - the genetic code that tells cells when and how to work.

Unlike Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai, who claimed to have grown 9 cm (3.5 inches) during his trip to the cosmos, Kelly came home an impressive 2 inches taller than his twin.

Results from the study were released in January at the 2018 Investigator's Workshop for Nasa's Human Research Programme.

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