NASA 'Twins Study' Reveals that Space Travel Messes With Your Genes
NASA began their Twins Study a couple years ago with a simple premise: send astronaut Scott Kelly to the International Space Station for a year while his identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, stayed on Earth. Once the Kelly brothers were reunited, NASA would run tons and tons of tests on them, to see if living in space had altered Scott in any way.
Since Scott returned to Earth in 2016, the brothers have spent the past year in the "tons and tons of tests" phase, and the most recent finding to be released is perhaps the most interesting thus far. Space travel apparently altered a bodily process that regulates Scott Kelly's gene expression, essentially meaning that space was messing with Scott's genes.
Specifically, all that space travel caused an increase in methylation, the process of turning genes on and off. Methylation is a very normal process that happens in all of us (defined as the process by which cells attach methyl groups to DNA molecules), but it sped up significantly almost as soon as Scott Kelly entered space, to the point that NASA compared the change in gene expression to "fireworks taking off" in their recent press release.
Chris Mason of Weill Cornell Medicine, the principal investigator on the Twins Study, described the "explosion" of changes that space induces in the body:
While NASA hasn't released too much more information than what's above, the lack of panic in their statement would suggest that this is far from a dangerous development, and Kelly is likely fine. The greater impact this has on astronauts does need to be looked into, though - at the very least, it's good to know that chemicals which affect their DNA will start majorly acting up once they leave the atmosphere.
The Twins Study is definitely going to become more important as various countries and companies around the world gradually begin to start sending humans back to the moon, while they make plans to have manned missions that travel even further. After all, if your body lights up like fireworks the moment you head to the ISS, would it be any greater if you made the much, much longer trip to Mars? NASA's hoping they can find out before they put such a mission together.
And this was just one of many tests the Kelly twins have been undergoing over the past year, with NASA also looking for any changes in behavior, the effects on microorganisms living inside us, and other ways that organs could be altered.
The full findings are expected to come out sometime in 2018, with more revelations about how non-identical the Kelly twins have become to surely follow.