Have you ever wondered exactly what happens to the human body when it's suspended in space for an extended period of time? Based on Hollywood productions alone, men and women who navigate the galaxy always seem to be just fine by the time they land back on Earth, but are astronauts so lucky in reality? NASA made it its mission to find out, and the results may surprise you.
In a new landmark DNA study just published in the April 12, 2019 issue of the journal Science, researchers from John Hopkins, Stanford and other institutions reveal that after a year in space, astronaut Scott Kelly experienced no major, long-term differences to his epigenome (a.k.a. the record of chemical changes to DNA) compared to that of his twin brother, Arizona Senate candidate Mark Kelly, who stayed firmly planted on Earth. (Mark is the husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was shot point blank during a constituent meeting held outdoors in Casas Adobes, Arizona.)
While the scientists behind the study say the implications of their work aren't entirely clear yet, it appears additional research on the genomes of astronauts in space could help predict what kinds of unique health issues they may be at risk for.
"The Twins Study has been an important step toward understanding epigenetics and gene expression in human spaceflight," J.D. Polk, DO, chief health and medical officer, NASA headquarters, said in a statement. "This has helped inform the need for personalized medicine and its role in keeping astronauts healthy during deep space exploration, as NASA goes forward to the Moon and journeys onward to Mars."