Published: Wed, March 14, 2018
Industry | By Terrell Bush

They Had the Same DNA. Then One Spent a Year in Space

They Had the Same DNA. Then One Spent a Year in Space

That's the takeaway from a long-term NASA study that used astronaut Scott Kelly and his twin brother Mark as guinea pigs to see how living in space can affect the most basic building blocks of life.

According to preliminary findings from the NASA researchers, upon his return from the International Space Station (ISS) after spending 340 days there, Scott had grown 2 inches taller, his body mass had decreased, his gut bacteria were completely different and even his genetic coding had changed significantly. However, most of the telomeres returned to normal lengths within two days of Scott's return to Earth.

Identical twin astronauts, Scott and Mark Kelly, are subjects of NASA's Twins Study.

But Scott Kelly, the US Space Agency astronaut who broke any record of staying at the International Space Station, changed a little.

In 2015, when Scott Kelly spent a year in space, NASA gave NASA the opportunity to examine the possible differences between monozygotic twins and to draw conclusions on how the human organism is affected by space. 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. So they made a decision to run some tests and compare Scott's DNA to his brother's after spending some time in space, and they were pretty surprised by the results. The recent 2018 IWS saw these findings confirmed. And while data from the 12-month expedition will help in formulating current assessments of crew performance and health, as well as validate countermeasures to reduce the risks associated with future exploration, the HRP also conducted a comparative study on the genetic effects of spaceflight with Scott's twin brother Mark as the ground control subject. Some changes returned to normal within hours or days of landing, while a few persisted after six months, NASA reported.

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In 2017, researchers discovered that the endcaps of Scott Kelly's chromosomes-his telomeres-had become longer while he was in space.

After Scott's return, researchers compared the brothers' DNA, previously identical, and noted changes in Scott's metabolism, cognition, immunity and other physiological changes.

The individual studies on the twins will be combined into a summary paper, as detailed in the graphic above.

However, seven per cent of the changes to Scott's genetic code remain, including some related to his immune system, DNA fix and bone formation networks that could potentially be permanent. A more comprehensive report will be released later this year.

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