Identical Twins' DNA No Longer Match After Year in Space

Pat Wise
March 15, 2018

One half of the NASA Twins Study examining the effects of long-term space flight on the human body, Scott orbited our planet for 340 days, while his identical twin brother, Mark, stayed home. The goal of his long stay on the ISS was to study changes in the body in space.

NASA has confirmed that astronaut Scott Kelly's DNA was altered after spending a year in space. But his genetic code had dramatically changed.

And because different research laboratories were given different missions in the comparative study, it took about two years to come up with the preliminary results, and they're quite interesting. As such, the Twin Study was intrinsic to NASA's efforts to prepare for its proposed "Journey to Mars", which is expected to take place sometime in the 2030s.

According to the study, scientists measured the Kelly brothers' metabolites, which are necessary for maintaining life, cytokines that are normally secreted by cells in the immune system, and proteins - the powerhouses within each cell.

Scott had grown two inches taller, lost body mass and he moved with slower speed and accuracy, according to findings published by NASA.

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The NASA Twin Study was the result of a partnership between 10 individual investigations, 12 colleges and universities, NASA's biomedical labs and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute Consortium.

Of particular interest were the changes to Scott's DNA.

"Scott's telomeres (endcaps of chromosomes that shorten as one ages) actually became significantly longer in space", NASA researchers wrote in a statement. "While this finding was presented in 2017, the team verified this unexpected change with multiple assays and genomics testing". "This is thought to be from the stresses of space travel, which can cause changes in a cell's biological pathways and ejection of DNA and RNA", researchers added.

Researchers believe that 93 percent of Scott's genes have returned to normal. Increasing the mission from the typical six-month length to nearly one year resulted in no significant decreases in Scott's cognitive performance while in flight. This decrease was more pronounced when he first landed, but was attributed to readjustment to Earth's gravity. The space agency added that Kelly had hundreds of "space genes" activated by the year-long flight which reportedly altered the astronaut's "immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia". There is no doubt that further research is still needed to understand what happened to Scott Kelly's DNA.

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