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Astronaut's DNA no longer matches his identical twin

Astronaut's DNA no longer matches his identical twin

Kelly spent one year aboard the International Space Station, and returned to Earth two years ago.

Scott Kelly (on the left), and Mikhail Korniyenko (on the right), were selected for the one-year mission in 2012. This provided a never-before-possible opportunity for NASA to study how long-term space travel affects the human body and the genes that make us who we are.

In a prolonged effort to keep astronauts safe, NASA will continue to study how spaceflight impacts humans and will release the full results from the Kelly twins' study later this year. Mark, his identical twin brother and fellow astronaut, stayed behind.

To track physical changes caused by time in space, scientists measured Scott's metabolites (necessary for maintaining life), cytokines (secreted by immune system cells) and proteins (workhorses within each cell) before, during and after his mission. These are preliminary results, however, and researchers are still working out what all has changed between the two brothers.

The studies on the twins are set to be pulled together into a summary paper which will be released later in the year. According to researchers, Kelly's telomeres began shortening again once he returned to Earth.

The Twins Study Investigators came from around the country to meet and share their final research results at the annual Human Research Program Investigators' Workshop held in Galveston, Texas in January 2018.

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To better understand the genetic dynamics of each twin, Mason and his team focused on chemical changes in RNA and DNA.

"Scott's telomeres (endcaps of chromosomes that shorten as one ages) actually became significantly longer in space", NASA explains. This unexplained anomaly was verified with multiple assays and genomics testing.

Researchers believe that 93 percent of Scott's genes have returned to normal. It is clear that most of the changes that the astronaut went through have reversed following his return to planet Earth, however, 7 per cent of Scott's genetic code remains altered and it might as well stay the same permanently.

But 7% of Scott's genes-specifically the ones related to immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia-never reverted back to their pre-flight conditions.

Following a triumphant homecoming, Scott, still readapting to Earth's gravity, became a NASA lab rat, completing tests to determine changes in his pre- and post-flight status. There is no doubt that further research is still needed to understand what happened to Scott Kelly's DNA.

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