Nature Vs. Nurture? Space Travel Weighs In
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly lived for nearly a year on the International Space Station, returning last March, while his identical twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, remained here on Earth. The brothers are the basis for a program called the Twins Study—the goal of which is to determine how the body is affected by extended time in space.
Although the study is incomplete at this time, the team from NASA’s Human Research Programs does have some preliminary results. Tests showed altered levels of a panel of lipids, indicating inflammation, in Scott—the flight twin—and higher levels of 3-indolepropionic (IPA), a byproduct of bacteria in the gut thought to have a protective effect on the brain, in Mark—the ground-based twin. Researchers also found that telomeres on the ends of chromosomes in Scott’s white blood cells—which typically get shorter with age—actually increased in length while he was in space, but began to shorten again after his return to Earth.
Other tests involved in this study include cognitive function, bone formation, biochemical markers for inflammation, GI tract microbiome (viruses, bacteria, etc.), immunology following flu vaccines, and genetic studies like DNA and RNA sequencing. NASA will use the results of this study to help reduce the risks of space exploration to human health and performance. Vacation on Mars, anyone?
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