NASA's Twin Study Finds Health Sustained During Year in Space

NASA twin study: Genes change in space

NASA twin study: Genes change in space

When NASA astronaut Scott Kelly went to the International Space Station (ISS), he also had a side objective to complete. But Scott Kelly says he's actually a few milliseconds younger still, due to having spent 500 more days in space than his astronaut brother. In contrast, his brother's telomeres remained stable throughout the entire period. Image credit: Derek Storm, www.derekstorm.com.

The Twins Study has been an important step toward understanding epigenetics and gene expression in human spaceflight. "But the findings give us clues to what we should examine more closely in future studies of astronauts". For the most part, the results line up with the preliminary results that were released in 2017.

GREENE: All right. Some other findings - Scott Kelly's gene expression changed, and his immune system went into high alert. The structure of the genes themselves remained unchanged. Telomeres are the protective "caps" on the ends of chromosomes.

After returning to Earth, Kelly's telomeres mostly returned to their preflight average, but he had more short telomeres than before.

It is the first time extensive research on identical twins has been carried out. Overall the study confirms that Scott Kelly was comparably happy and healthy during his year in space compared to his earthbound brother.

A flu vaccine administered in space worked exactly as it would on Earth, indicating that the immune system is not significantly compromised outside the planet.

The teams of scientists studied the twins' physiology, memory abilities, gene expression changes and more before, during, and after that year. Back on Earth, his body returned to normal within months. Some observed DNA damage is believed to be a result of radiation exposure. Six months after his return, his immune system was still altered, DNA fix genes were still upregulated and some of his chromosomes were still rearranged.

The research was conducted under the umbrella Human Research Program that was launched by NASA in 2004 to prepare for long-distance space travel such as human flights to Mars that are planned for the 2020s and 2030s.

Green and colleagues also saw no changes in levels of microbial diversity during Scott's time on the space station. A fully functioning immune system during long-duration space missions is critical to protecting astronaut health from opportunistic microbes in the spacecraft environment.

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Studying various elements in Scott found that his body mass decreased by seven percent during flight. His bone breakdown and bone reformation cycle occurred at a faster rate during the first six months he was in space, but slowed down in the second half when his exercise volume was lower. Feinberg and Rizzardi traveled for a week on the famed "Vomit Comet", a plane that simulates weightlessness, to test their protocols for overcoming the challenges of collecting, purifying and storing blood samples aboard the space station. Folate has many important functions in the body, including support of DNA synthesis. Weirder still, Scott's telomeres shrank as soon as he landed.

There's a lot in space that can affect your health. Scott's gut flora was found to be profoundly different during flight from preflight. It is greatly influenced by genetics, stress, diet and other environmental factors. "The really dramatic response of the human body in flight is only matched by how quickly it reverted back to the preflight stage when it got back to Earth", Mason says. Observing how much Scott's gut bacteria returned to normal was reassuring. These changes typically affect visual acuity and, says Feinberg, have occurred in other male astronauts but not females.

When preliminary results were released previous year many news outlets wrongly reported that 7 percent of Scott's DNA had changed. Several months later, some telomeres were even shorter. Scott's white blood cells revealed genes, or regions of the genome, where DNA methylation was altered in flight but returned to baseline upon his return.

The full results, published Thursday in the journal Science, showed that Scott Kelly experienced numerous physiological and chromosomal changes during his long sojourn in orbit, including changes in gene expression. And they don't know for certain whether any of the changes they identified will cause health problems for him long term.

Mr. Mark did not have any such thickening.

About 40 percent of astronauts experience these sort of vision changes, said Lee. The findings represent 27 months of data collection. The scientists found three strong indications of inflammation in Scott in space.

NASA has big ambitions for taking humans into space, including in long-term missions on the Moon and, eventually, to Mars.

"This paper is the first report of this highly integrated study that began five years ago when the investigators first gathered". His flu shot worked despite all the stress of space.

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