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NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly's DNA Altered In Space

10 March 2018

Seven percent of his genes did not return to normal after he landed, researchers found. Scott's brother Mark Kelly, is a retired astronaut who stayed on the ground. With every progressing year, researchers include latest technologies to support the isolated harsh condition on the International Space Station where astronauts are stationed to perform experiments and other operations. This was the final mission for Scott, who spent a total of 520 days in space during his career.

The Twins Study, launched by NASA past year, is the stepping stone toward long-duration space flight such as a journey to Mars. We know that astronauts often suffer from headaches and eye strain thanks to their time in space, and even when subjected to a regular intense exercise schedule, their muscles atrophy while they don't suffer from the natural resistance present on our homeworld.

But a journey like this would take at least three years - the longest a person has ever been in space.

Meanwhile, a lot of other changes to Scott's DNA have remained constant over time.

Researchers studied Scott in space psychologically and physiologically, comparing his results to those of his Earthbound brother. While this finding was presented in 2017, the team verified this unexpected change with multiple assays and genomics testing.

Over several studies that involved sending Scott to the International Space Station for extended missions, NASA ultimately discovered that much of Scott's genetics had changed dramatically when compared with his brother.

The Twins Study has benefited NASA by providing the first application of genomics to evaluate potential risks to the human body in space.

The initial findings also stated the following: Scott's folate went up during inflight, likely due to better food choices from the space food system; the flu vaccines given in space and on Earth yield the similar immune responses, and his cognition was not affected during the 12-month mission but he registered decrease in speed and accuracy after the mission.

Scott's telomeres (the ends of chromosomes that shorten as you age) actually became significantly longer in space. There's further research to be done, but while Scott was previously identical to Mark, now the pairs' genes display a 7 percent difference. However, the remaining 7% point to possible longer term changes in genes related to his immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia.

If the results of the Twins Study are like a play, Act 1 began at NASA's Human Research Program (HRP) 2017 Investigators' Workshop (IWS), where the ten teams presented their preliminary findings.

The individual studies on the twins will be combined into a summary paper, as detailed in the graphic above. Act 3 will be debuted later in 2018 when an integrated summary publication is expected to be released. The research will inform NASA's understanding of the human body in space for "years to come", the agency reported, as it "continues to prioritize the health and safety of astronauts on spaceflight missions".