Time in Space Transforms Gene Expression, NASA Says

Mark and Scott Kelly. 

Mark and Scott Kelly. NASA

"Astronaut's DNA no longer matches that of his identical twin, NASA finds". NASA astronaut Scott Kelly goes to space for almost a year, comes back, and suddenly has turned into a mutant with different DNA from his twin.

The Hill: "NASA study: Astronaut's DNA no longer identical to his identical twin's after year in space".

After his year on the International Space Station, NASA investigators found 'hundreds of unique mutations'.

Some of the changes in gene expression that NASA noted in Scott reverted to normal within hours of returning to Earth, while others remained changed six months later.

Identical twin astronauts, Scott and Mark Kelly, are subjects of NASA's Twins Study. To track the changes, NASA analyzed Scott Kelly's cellular function before, during, and after the mission. Gene expression refers to the ways in which DNA adapts or reacts to changes in its environment.

In particular, Chris Mason of Weill Cornell Medicine reported on the activation of Kelly's "space genes" while confirming the results of his separate NASA study, published previous year. While some private space firms are looking to take people to the red planet very soon, it's clear there's still a great deal we don't understand about the effects of space travel on humans. Researchers know 93% of Scott's genes returned to normal after landing. Researchers also presented what happened to Scott after he returned to Earth, again while making comparisons to Mark.

What changed in Scott was the way his DNA was transcribed and translated into functional products; the study of such shifts is called epigenetics.

However, a more pronounced decrease in speed and accuracy was reported postflight, possibly due to re-exposure and adjustment to Earth's gravity, and the busy schedule that enveloped Scott after his mission, the agency said.

The truth is, identical twins don't necessarily have identical DNA, even if that may sound hard to believe.

Genetic changes to USA astronaut Scott Kelly made headlines this month when it was reported his DNA had changed by 7percent.

The Twins Study has benefited NASA by providing the first application of genomics to evaluate potential risks to the human body in space. A trip to Mars, for example, could mean astronauts spending at least 3 to 4 years in space.

Scott's 7% gene expression differences concern the immune system, DNA fix, bone formation, and more, according to the NASA.

At no point in that process was Scott Kelly zapped by an alien laser beam, attacked by a xenomorph or otherwise transfigured into a previously unknown mutant variety of human.

Experts are now stressing Kelly's percentage change in gene expression levels are comparable with humans undergoing stressful activities such as mountain climbing or scuba diving.

Susan Bailey, a professor at Colorado State University and a lead researcher of the twins study, said she was shocked to see such headlines.

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