NASA's Twins Study preliminary results have revealed that space travel causes an increase in methylation, the process of turning genes on and off, and additional knowledge in how that process works.
"Some of the most exciting things that we've seen from looking at gene expression in space is that we really see an explosion, like fireworks taking off, as soon as the human body gets into space," Twins Study Principal Investigator Chris Mason, Ph.D., of Weill Cornell Medicine, said. "With this study, we've seen thousands and thousands of genes change how they are turned on and turned off. This happens as soon as an astronaut gets into space, and some of the activity persists temporarily upon return to Earth."
When retired twin astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth in March 2016, the Twins Study research intensified with investigators collecting samples from him and his twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly. The researchers began combining the data and reviewing the enormous amount of information looking for correlations.
"This study represents one of the most comprehensive views of human biology," Mason said. "It really sets the bedrock for understanding molecular risks for space travel as well as ways to potentially protect and fix those genetic changes."
Final results for the Twins Study are expected to be published in 2018.
NASA's Human Research Program (HRP) is dedicated to discovering the best methods and technologies to support safe, productive human space travel. HRP enables space exploration by reducing the risks to astronaut health and performance using ground research facilities, the International Space Station, and analog environments. This leads to the development and delivery of a program focused on: human health, performance, and habitability standards; countermeasures and risk mitigation solutions; and advanced habitability and medical support technologies. HRP supports innovative, scientific human research by funding more than 300 research grants to respected universities, hospitals and NASA centers to over 200 researchers in more than 30 states.