NASA's Twin Study Finds Health Sustained During Year in Space

Rodiano Bonacci
Aprile 14, 2019

However, the genes related to the immune system and DNA fix did not return to baseline after return.The Twins Study incorporated 10 investigations where both Scott and Mark participated in a number of biomedical studies, including how the human body adjusts to known hazards such as weightlessness and space radiation, while Mark underwent parallel studies on Earth to compare the effects on the body.It is the first time extensive research on identical twins has been carried out. But Scott Kelly says he's actually a few milliseconds younger still, due to having spent 500 more days in space than his astronaut brother. Image credit: Derek Storm,

"The "Twins Study" has been an important step toward understanding epigenetics and gene expression in human spaceflight", said J.D. Polk, chief Health and Medical Officer at NASA Headquarters, in a statement.

"Thanks to the twin brothers and a cadre of investigators who worked tirelessly together, the valuable data gathered from the Twins Study has helped inform the need for personalized medicine and its role in keeping astronauts healthy during deep space exploration, as NASA goes forward to the Moon and journeys onward to Mars".

Key results from the study are summarized below.

"There seems to be a small but significant effect on the microbiome caused by spaceflight; however, the makeup of Scott's gut microbiome returned to his baseline pretty quickly upon his return to Earth", Green said. Other changes noted in the integrated paper include broken chromosomes rearranging themselves in chromosomal inversions, and a change in cognitive function.

Though at this time its Twins Study has a subject of only 1, the data remains priceless. A fully functioning immune system during long-duration space missions is critical to protecting astronaut health from opportunistic microbes in the spacecraft environment. "We also saw a very rapid decrease in telomere length upon his return to Earth". One of the most striking discoveries from the Twins Study is that Scott experienced a change in telomere length dynamics during spaceflight and within days of landing. The results may help to evaluate general health and identify potential long-term risks. Scott administered a flu vaccine in space and it worked exactly like it did on Earth.

The scientists also found that the shape of Scott's eyeball changed over the course of the flight, including a thicker retinal nerve and folds in the choroid layer that surrounds the eye.

Most puzzlingly for the researchers, they also indicated that Scott Kelly's telomeres, the protective ends of chromosomes which gradually shorten while we get older, in fact got longer while he was in space.

Samples taken before, during and after Scott's mission revealed some changes in gene expression. NASA called the findings "interesting, surprising and reassuring", detailing the changes in Kelly's body caused by his almost year-long time on the International Space Station.

Faecal swabs were collected from both twins twice before Scott's departure from Earth, four times during Scott's time on the space station and then three times upon his return to Earth. "Virtually all of those returned to normal (in Scott) by six months", Mr. Snyder said. Some observed DNA damage is believed to be a result of radiation exposure.

However, the changes in the DNA and mental abilities might not vanish so soon, which is a matter of concern for the space agency. This is important as it suggests that astronauts can maintain high levels of cognitive performance for longer durations in space. More than 90 percent of the gene activity developed within six months but again back to the Level before the Mission.

There's a lot in space that can affect your health. While he was found to be in good health after the testing concluded, not everything was alright. It is greatly influenced by genetics, stress, diet and other environmental factors.

In addition to this, the walls of Scott's carotid arteries thickened - a cardiovascular problem that's been observed before in astronauts returning from space. Observing how much Scott's gut bacteria returned to normal was reassuring. Tests disclosed epigenetic tags on more than 1000 of his genes, that were absent in his preflight samples or samples from Mark.

NASA has more on humans in space.

Mr. Mark did not have any such thickening. AQP2 regulates water reabsorption in the body and is a useful indicator of hydration or dehydration status.

The findings, published in the Science journal, encompass work from 10 research teams and represent 27 months of data collection. Interestingly, some of these markers were elevated in Mark as well.

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