Strange Science: Space and Gene Expression

DNA helixNASA has recently been studying the impacts of space travel on identical twins, as a part of their Twins Study. And while they haven’t discovered that space changes your DNA, as some news outlets initially reported, they have determined that even after returning to Earth, someone who has spent time in space may have a different gene expression than they did before, one that differs from even that of their identical twin.

Mark and Scott Kelly are both astronauts and also identical twins. Scott spent a year on the International Space Station, while his brother Mark remained on Earth. Because they are identical twins, they made ideal comparison subjects to determine what happens to humans who spend prolonged periods in space.

On Scott’s return to Earth, scientists could identify a large number of changes that his body had undergone while in space, especially in comparison to Mark. But even after Scott had been back for six months, there was still a portion of his gene presentation–7 percent–that differed from that of his brother. This shows that there are both short- and long-term effects to the human body from space travel.

NASA’s study of identical twins is preparatory to sending astronauts on a mission to Mars. So we’ll likely hear even more about this study and potential effects to humans in space in coming years!


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