The scientists studied the only identical twin astronauts in history, Scott and Mark Kelly, whose genetic codes became significantly different after Scott had spent 340 days aboard the ISS, while his brother stayed on Earth. As identical twin astronauts, Scott and Mark were the flawless research subjects for the study's before-and-after comparison. Since Kelly's return, the two have been subjected to medical tests to see what long-term effects microgravity has had of Scott's Kelly's physique. After six months, however, these changes reversed and Scott reverted back to his pre-spaceflight state.
Astronauts Mark Kelly, left, and Scott Kelly attend the Breitling Global Roadshow event at The Duggal Greenhouse on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, in NY. The researchers learned that spaceflight is associated with oxygen-deprivation stress, increased inflammation and dramatic nutrient shifts that affect gene expression.
Most biological fluctuations quickly reached baseline; some took hours or days, while a few persisted after six months.
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Mason's work shows that one of the most important changes to Scott's cells was hypoxia, or a deficient amount of tissue oxygenation, probably due to a lack of oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide.
After spending almost a year aboard the International Space Station, American astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth in 2016-only to find that his DNA had changed. The remaining 7 percent, however, suggest long-term changes in genes related to the immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia. "The body thinks there's a reason to defend itself".
"I did read in the newspaper the other day that 7 percent of my DNA had changed permanently", Kelly said in a recent interview. But he did exhibit a pronounced decrease in speed and accuracy post-flight, which NASA attributed to Scott's re-exposure and adjustment to Earth's gravity, along with his busy schedule. Of course, no two people are exactly alike (especially after spending some time outside Earth's atmosphere).
The space agency expects to publish all Twins Study findings, as well as a series of smaller research papers, later this year. While Scott spent a year in space, Mark stayed behind, and upon Scott's return, NASA was able to track and monitor the ways that spaceflight had altered Scott's body.