NASA Twin Study Explores Space Travel Effect on Gene Expression

A NASA study involving identical twins has revealed new information on the workings of methylation - the turning on and off of genes - and how traveling to space effects the process. (Image credit: NASA)

A NASA study involving identical twins has revealed new information on the workings of methylation - the turning on and off of genes - and how traveling to space effects the process.

“Some of the most exciting things that we’ve seen from looking at gene expression in space is that we really see an explosion, like fireworks taking off, as soon as the human body gets into space,” Twins Study Principal Investigator Chris Mason, Ph.D., of Weill Cornell Medicine, said. “With this study, we’ve seen thousands and thousands of genes change how they are turned on and turned off. This happens as soon as an astronaut gets into space, and some of the activity persists temporarily upon return to Earth.”

The study is focused on former astronauts and identical twins, Scott and Mark Kelly. Having the same DNA profile means scientists can track the differences between gene expression in space and on earth during the same time frame. From the Scientific American:

Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko lived aboard the International Space Station (ISS) from March 2015 through March 2016, completing an unprecedented 11-month mission. (Most stints aboard the orbiting lab last five to six months.) Mark Kelly stayed on Earth the entire time, serving as a control against which to measure the changes that spaceflight may have induced in Scott.

Publication of the final results of the study is expected in 2018.

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