NASA offered some of the first preliminary results of its Twins Study which analyzes the differences between living on Earth versus space by comparing twin brother astronauts.
The Twins Study is a genetical experiment. Research revolves around twin identical astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly. The study is divided into ten separate investigations. Still, these share all their gathered data and analysis. They coordinate, collaborate, and work as a sole team.
NASA established the Twins Study with quite a specific target in mind. It set out to determine the subtle changes of effects of living in space. Research should offer a broader insight on the matter.
Identical twins, Scott and Mark Kelly have almost the same genetics. As one lived on Earth, the other lived in space. Researchers are analyzing the differences that may have been produced by the different environments.
And the results, although preliminary, are quite outstanding. In between 2015 to 2016, Scott Kelly spent 340 straight days onboard the ISS. This is the International Space Station. At the same time, Mark Kelly resided on Earth. A former astronaut himself, Mark retired from NASA.
The Twins Study sought to determine the potential genetic and physical differences that could appear between the two. NASA is seeking to determine the possible consequences of microgravity. It is trying to establish the effects of a prolonged exposure on the human body.
The Kelly twins agreed to take participate in the program. They took quite a lot of biological samples before and after Scott’s departure to the ISS. Tests were also carried out after this latter’s return to Earth.
According to reports, these last tests revealed great differences. The twins are basically genetically the same. But after Scott’s stay in space, this seems to have greatly changed. Samples show that the two’s bodies have diverged. Presently, they show differences even in terms of gene expression.
Christopher Mason reportedly offered some details. He is a Weill Cornell Medicine geneticist. He stated that every team is reporting differences between the two brothers. This declaration was supposedly made during the 2017 NASA Human Research Program Investigators’ Workshop. It took place in Galveston, Texas.
Post-ISS analyses showed that Scott Kelly had longer telomeres. These latter are the protective caps at the end of a DNA strand. And after his return, they were longer than Mark’s.
Presently, the researchers are uncertain why this happened. Scott’s telomeres have since returned to their previous length. But research on the matter is still being carried out.
The Twins Study also revealed another difference. During his ISS stay, Scott Kelly’s DNA experienced less methylation. This happens as methyl groups get added to the DNA molecules. Methyl groups are specific types of molecules.
Curiously, over the same period of time, Mark Kelly’s DNA methylation increased. The researchers are also unsure why this happened. More studies on the matter will also be carried out.
NASA has yet to announce the official Twins Study results. In March 2016, the agency offered 2017 or 2018 as a potential release date. This is the estimated date for the study’s first peer-reviewed research. The brothers themselves will be reviewing the study before its release.
Still, the Twins Study could offer very important data. NASA is seeking to send a human mission to Mars. Its targeted date has been set for sometimes in 2030. Mission members would be spending quite a lot of time up in space. As such, it is very important to determine the effects of a prolonged space microgravity stay.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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