Time in Space Transforms Gene Expression, NASA Says

Mark (left) and Scott (right) Kelly. NASA

Mark (left) and Scott (right) Kelly. NASA

Astronaut Scott Kelly set a record for the longest single spaceflight in US history, and now, two years later, NASA has released new research about what the almost yearlong stay in orbit did to his body. "Who knew? I no longer have to call Mark my identical twin brother any more".

For Scott, most of the changes experienced returned to their former state as his body readjusted to Earth's gravity once again.

Some of the genes that seem to have changed permanently involved DNA fix, bone formation and how the cells use oxygen.

Scientists noted a 7 percent change in gene expression after Scott Kelly spent a year in space.

Our gene's expression levels reflect whether genes are turned off or on and change each time we get sick and in response to different environmental factors. Much like any human body under stress - say, mountain climbing or deep sea diving - his body changed. The NASA Twins Study also presented a unique opportunity for investigators to collaborate, participating in a team approach to HRP research.

Live Science explained what really happened to Scott Kelly's gene was a change in the "expression" of his genes. But it suggests that space flight does induce longer-term changes at the molecular level.

'The change related to only 7 percent of the gene expression that changed during spaceflight that had not returned to preflight after six months on Earth.

While 93% of Kelly's genes went back to normal after a few days back on Earth, the remaining 7% could spell longer-term changes to his immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia. Such trips would require long trips in space, exposing the human body to potentially unknown hazards.

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The seven per cent that persisted is "minimal", the space agency said.

The seventh of 10 items in the January update refers to a study, by Chris Mason of Weill Cornell Medicine, on the "genetic, epigenetic, and transcriptional dynamics of each twin".

One of the more interesting findings of the study concerned what some have dubbed the "space gene".

"What's causing the ruckus, though, is that NASA found a shift in the way that Scott's genes were expressed".

That "cell-free DNA" can be produced because of stress, NASA said, which, when you think about it, makes sense. His twin brother, a retired astronaut, Mark Kelly back on earth. In reality, identical twins that are both Earth-bound would also rack up mutations over the course of their lives; identical twins ordinarily don't have perfectly identical genomes.

The truth is, identical twins don't necessarily have identical DNA, even if that may sound hard to believe.

Of course, we are still years away from having such knowledge, since Kelly's year in space is the longest time period for which researchers have this kind of data.

"They are still identical twins".

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