NASA Study of twins finds space changes astronauts’ genetic makeup

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A NASA study discovered that extensive time in space changes astronauts on a genetic level. So much for my dream of retiring on the Moon!

Scott Kelly and his brother Mark are not just both astronauts – they are also twins. This is why they are the focus of NASA’s Twins Study, which has been monitoring the brothers’ physiology. Researchers collected samples from before, during, and after Scott’s sojourn through space while Mark stayed on Earth as a control sample. Since Scott’s return, scientists have been comparing and reviewing the twins’ combined data for correlations. Preliminary results reveal that space travel caused an increase in methylation in Scott’s body, a process that affects gene expression.

According to Dr. Chris Mason, “Some of the most exciting things that we’ve seen from looking at gene expression in space is that we really see an explosion, like fireworks taking off, as soon as the human body gets into space,” said Mason. “With this study, we’ve seen thousands and thousands of genes change how they are turned on and turned off. This happens as soon as an astronaut gets into space, and some of the activity persists temporarily upon return to Earth.”

Methylation is a necessary chemical process that turns genes on and off; it keeps your healthy cells in good working condition, and locks aging cells in the off position so that the body knows to get rid of them. Without methylation, your aging process would accelerate and you would die within days. This is not what I was looking for by going into space..

PBS will debut the second part of its documentary detailing astronaut Scott Kelly’s historic year-long stay aboard the International Space Station 9 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15.