NASA Clarifies That Space Travel Does Not Actually 'Change DNA'

Saturday, 17 March 2018 - 11:02AM
Space
NASA
Saturday, 17 March 2018 - 11:02AM
NASA Clarifies That Space Travel Does Not Actually 'Change DNA'
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NASA
Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly are both astronauts and twin brothers who've been helping NASA with a fascinating experiment - Scott spent some time up in the International Space Station while Mark remained on Earth, so NASA could see how space travel affected Scott when he returned.

Perhaps you've heard about this, because it was recently all over the news that NASA had confirmed that space travel created changes in Scott Kelly's gene expression, some of which hadn't returned to normal since he landed back on Earth in 2016. The problem was that the news was widely reported that Scott Kelly's DNA had actually changed, which wasn't the case.

The problem is this: it may seem like it's just simplifying the scientific jargon to say his genes changed, but that means something completely different. If his genes or DNA had actually changed, he would be a mutant who probably has psychic or magnetic superpowers, or is turning into a lizard.



NASA has since issued a follow-up statement clarifying what actually happened. Scott and Mark are still identical twins, but space travel had caused changes in Scott's gene expression which are within the normal levels for humans under stress, and similar changes can come around from SCUBA diving.

The real reason for the announcement was mostly that it confirmed a prediction that NASA had made back in October, and that 7% of the gene expression that changed had not returned to normal after he landed, which does requires further study. Otherwise, the biggest changes - that Scott's telomeres (the tips of chromosomes) had stretched out while he was in space - had fixed themselves once he landed.



Taking a look at Scott's gene expression is just one of the many, many tests that NASA has performed since the Kelly brothers reunited. The "Twin Study" is designed to be as comprehensive as possible in determining just what changes in the body when you venture out into space.

Other things that NASA is examining is how behavior changes, how organs could be altered, and if there are any effects on the microorganisms living inside us. But our DNA doesn't change, at least.


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