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Study looks at how astronaut’s body changed after a year in space

April 12, 2019
Mark and Scott Kelly

Image: NASA

In a landmark study, scientists from Johns Hopkins, Stanford University, and other U.S. institutions has found no long-lasting, major differences between the epigenomes of astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a year in space aboard the International Space Station, and his twin brother, Mark, who remained on Earth.

But key results from the NASA Twins Study do confirm that prolonged space travel triggers stressors that can alter genes, send the immune system into overdrive, or hinder mental reasoning abilities and memory. Whether these stressors have long-term health repercussions remains unclear, as does what the study tells us about the perils of space travel on a person’s genome, the scientists say.

But additional research could eventually help scientists predict the types of medical risks astronauts may face on long space journeys where people experience less gravity than on Earth, exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays, and other risks to health.

“This is the dawn of human genomics in space,” says Andrew Feinberg, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, and Mental Health at Johns Hopkins University. “We developed the methods for doing these types of human genomic studies, and we should be doing more research to draw conclusions about what happens to humans in space.”

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