Research

NASA Twin Study reveals space's effect on telomeres, bones and more

NASA Twin Study reveals space's effect on telomeres, bones and more

The goal of his long stay on the ISS was to study changes in the body in space. Seven percent of his genes did not return to normal after he landed, researchers found.

Astronaut Scott Kelly and his twin brother Mark Kelly took part in NASA's twin study, a means to compare the human body on Earth to its counterpart following a year in space. According to work done so far, Scott Kelly's time in space resulted in a lengthening in the portion of chromosomes known as telomeres. This was the final mission for Scott, who spent a total of 520 days in space during his career. A Mars mission would last as long as three years, which would obviously be the longest stretch that any human has been away from Earth. As well, the astronaut's time in space seems to have stunted his bone formation, at least in the latter portions of the trip.

The study subjected the brothers to a whole raft of psychological and physiological tests to ascertain exactly what a frankly unsustainable amount of space does to the human body and psyche.

NASA detailed the early results in Texas recently during the Human Research Program's Investigator Workshop. Overall, the 2018 findings corroborated those from 2017, with some additions.

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Scientists measured the men's metabolites, which are necessary for maintaining life; cytokines, which are secreted by immune system cells; and proteins, the workhorses within each cell. Some changes returned to normal within hours or days of landing, while a few persisted after six months, NASA reported.

As Newsweek reports, Scott's body experienced things like oxygen deprivation stress, increased inflammation, and nutrient shifts when he returned to Earth. And most of Scott's physical changes, including his two inches in height gain, proved to be responses to the low gravity, low-oxygen environment of space, according to NASA. As it turns out, space really does change us, and upon Scott's return to Earth it was discovered that his DNA has significantly changed.

It relates to five biological pathways and functions, including his immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia.

The studies on the twins are set to be pulled together into a summary paper which will be released later in the year.


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