Oh, brother! NASA twins study shows how space changes the human body

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Oh, brother! NASA twins study shows how space changes the human body


Nasa astronaut brothers Scott and Mark Kelly
Nasa astronaut brothers Scott and Mark Kelly
US Astronaut Scott Kelly who is spending a year in space on board the ISS
Credit:NASA

An American astronaut experienced multiple biological changes in space but returned to normal – with some exceptions – after coming back to Earth, according to a study involving twin brothers that shed light on how space flight affects the human body.

In research published on Thursday, scientists compared Scott Kelly to identical twin Mark Kelly after Scott spent 340 days in orbit on the International Space Station and Mark remained Earth-bound. Both are now retired as NASA astronauts, and Mark is running for a US Senate seat in Arizona.



American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are interviewed at the International Space Station (Nasa via AP)American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are interviewed at the International Space Station (Nasa via AP)

American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are interviewed at the International Space Station (Nasa via AP)
U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly (C), Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Korniyenko (top), crew members of the mission to the International Space Station (ISS) wave before the launch of Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan March 27, 2015. REUTERS/Dmitry Lovetsky/Pool
Nasa astronaut Scott Kelly of the U.S. gestures after donning space suits at the Baikonur cosmodrome March 27, 2015. The Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft is scheduled to blast off from Kazakhstan on March 28, with NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka to the International Space Station. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

Scott Kelly during the flight experienced thickening of the carotid artery and retina, weight loss, shifts in gut microbes, reductions in cognitive abilities, DNA damage, changes in gene expression, and a lengthening of the ends of chromosomes called telomeres, scientists said.

After returning home, the telomere elongation was replaced by accelerated shortening and loss, a potentially negative consequence for cellular health, they said.

Read more here: Ex-astronaut seeking to take US Senate seat of the late John McCain

“The return was much worse than the adaptation of getting up there, especially for the year flight,” Kelly told reporters on Thursday. “I felt like I had the flu after the first few days. I was tired for really long time.”



U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly is assisted by ground personnel shortly after landing near the town of Dzhezkazgan (Zhezkazgan), Kazakhstan, March 2, 2016U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly is assisted by ground personnel shortly after landing near the town of Dzhezkazgan (Zhezkazgan), Kazakhstan, March 2, 2016

U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly is assisted by ground personnel shortly after landing near the town of Dzhezkazgan (Zhezkazgan), Kazakhstan, March 2, 2016
US Astronaut Scott Kelly who is spending a year in space on board the ISS
Credit:NASA

The study will help scientists better understand the changes astronauts undergo during long-term space travel, crucial knowledge as NASA contemplates human expeditions to the Moon and Mars.

Scientists noted changes in the expression of Scott Kelly’s genes while in space, with most – but not all – returning to normal after six months back on Earth. A small percentage related to the immune system and DNA repair failed to return to normal, however, indicating potential lasting damage at the genetic level.

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Researchers identified five possible causes for the genetic changes, including space radiation and the weightlessness of a zero-gravity environment. The space station where Scott Kelly lived orbits below the Van Allen radiation belt, a shell of energetic charged particles built up outside Earth’s protective magnetic field.

“Radiation is much lower than what we expect it to be going to Mars,” said Steven Platts, deputy chief scientist at NASA’s Human Research Program.

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Scott Kelly’s immune system worked fine in space and a flu vaccine administered in orbit performed just as it would on Earth, the study found. NASA called a strong immune system critical for lengthy space missions to safeguard astronauts from disease-causing microbes in the spacecraft environment.

Read more here: Nasa twins no longer identical after space flight alters DNA

Dr Andrew Feinberg of Johns Hopkins University, who helped lead the study published in the journal Science, noted that publication of the findings coincides with the 58th anniversary of the first human space flight, by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Feinberg called the study “the dawn of human genomics in space.”

Researchers are planning another years-long study to build on Thursday’s results. “Put me in coach, I’m ready to go,” Scott Kelly joked.

Reuters

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