NASA’s preliminary results have revealed that space travel causes an increase in methylation, the process of turning genes on and off, and additional knowledge in how that process works.
NASA’s Twins Study investigates subtle effects and changes that might occur in spaceflight as compared to Earth. This is done by studying two individuals who have the same genetics – identical twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly- but are in different environments for one year.
Chris Mason of Weill Cornell Medicine is the Twins Study Principal Investigator. Mason said:
Some of the most exciting things that we’ve seen from looking at gene expression in space is that we really see an explosion, like fireworks taking off, as soon as the human body gets into space. With this study, we’ve seen thousands and thousands of genes change how they are turned on and turned off. This happens as soon as an astronaut gets into space, and some of the activity persists temporarily upon return to Earth.
When retired twin astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth in March 2016, the Twins Study research intensified with investigators collecting samples from him and his twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly. The researchers began combining the data and reviewing the enormous amount of information looking for correlations. Mason said:
This study represents one of the most comprehensive views of human biology. It really sets the bedrock for understanding molecular risks for space travel as well as ways to potentially protect and fix those genetic changes.
Final results for the Twins Study are expected to be published in 2018.
Bottom line : Twins Study preliminary results suggest space travel causes an increase in methylation, the process of turning genes on and off. New video from NASA.
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How do human genes act in space? – EarthSky