Astronaut's DNA no longer matches his twin, NASA study finds

Mark and Scott Kelly. 

"Who knew? I no longer have to call Mark my identical twin brother any more".

Researchers believe there is a lot to learn from the continuing twins study, which, using multiple independent researchers, measured Scott Kelly after his 340-day trip to the International Space Station in 2015 and 2016 against his twin brother, Mark, who is a retired astronaut. Scientists hope to better understand the effects of long-term space travel in preparation for trips to Mars, and the comparison with his twin offers scientists additional context.

Astronaut Scott Kelly set a record for the longest single spaceflight in US history, and now, two years later, NASA has released new research about what the almost yearlong stay in orbit did to his body.

This was revealed in preliminary results from the space agency's twins study, according to CNN. We also saw changes with DNA fix, so his body actually dealing with some of the impacts of radiation. Kelly still has the same DNA, yet now has a change to the way some of the DNA expresses itself.

"Whole-genome sequencing showed each twin has hundreds of unique mutations in their genome, more than expected, and some were found only after spaceflight, circulating in the blood as 'cell-free DNA, '" NASA said in a statement.

"Scott's DNA did not fundamentally change". And this past January, NASA announced that attendees at a recent scientific workshop agreed on the initial medical conclusion - that space travel takes a significant toll and can result in changes at the molecular level. Researchers discovered that while 93 percent of Scott Kelly's genes returned to normal after landing, the remaining 7 percent did not.

Mr. Humphries clarified that no twins are 100 percent identical, and that "over time they tend to become less identical, just like every human being". NASA called the amount of change "very minimal", but said it could point to possible longer-term changes in genes related to his immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, hypoxia (oxygen deficiency), and hypercapnia (excessive carbon dioxide in the bloodstream). Again, these are changes in how the DNA makes proteins. Not only did his time in space give astronauts a new record, but it gave NASA a ideal opportunity to understand how the human body reacts to almost a year in space. Last March, Scott was two inches taller when he returned from his mission than he had been when he left.

Kelly's one-year mission is a scientific stepping stone to a planned three-year mission to Mars, NASA said.

The Twins Study has benefited NASA by providing the first application of genomics to evaluate potential risks to the human body in space. However, it does give researchers further insights into how the body reacts to space.


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