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Space Changed the DNA of Astronaut Scott Kelly

March 11, 2018
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Space Changed the DNA of Astronaut Scott Kelly

Scott Kelly spent nearly a year in space, aboard the International Space Station. He returned to Earth in 2016 and found that his DNA had changed.

Scott Kelly and his twin brother, astronaut Mark Kelly, were the subjects of the study that sought to find out exactly what happens to the body after a year in space.

Scott orbited our planet for 340 days, while Mark, stayed home.

It turns out that seven percent of Scott’s genes did not return to normal after he landed, researchers found.

Scott basically risked his life completing tests to determine changes in his pre and post-flight status. He is still re-adapting to Earth’s gravity.

“Scott’s telomeres (endcaps of chromosomes that shorten as one ages) actually became significantly longer in space,” according to NASA. Unfortunately, the growth spurt didn’t last long; the majority of those telomeres shrunk within two days of landing.

“Another interesting find concerned what some call the ‘space gene,’” the Administration said.

Researchers found that shortly after landing, 93 percent of Scott Kelly’s genes returned to normal. The altered 7 percent, however, could indicate long-term changes in genes connected to the immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, oxygen deprivation and elevated carbon dioxide levels.

“I did read in the newspaper the other day… that 7 percent of my DNA had changed permanently,” he told broadcaster Marketplace in a recent interview. “And I’m reading that, I’m like, ‘Huh, well that’s weird.’”

The plan for the multiple research areas in NASA’s Twins Study.

A summary paper will combine the individual studies on the twins, as detailed in the graphic above. This summary is set to be released later this year.

This has brought NASA one step closer to understanding the dangers of a three-year mission to Mars.

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Thumbnail Image: Identical twins, Scott and Mark Kelly, are the subjects of NASA’s Twins Study. Scott (left) spent a year in space while Mark (right) stayed on Earth as a control subject. Researchers are looking at the effects of space travel on the human body. Credits: NASA

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