What do you imagine the voyage up to Space is like? Exhilarating? Frightening? Thrilling? While all of the above might be true, these momentary emotions just can’t compare to the significant amount of change that occurs inside you microscopically; the alterations that reshape and turn different genes on and off. We already know how our body reacts in Space, but scientists wanted to gather more information regarding how we are affected on a molecular level, and that too, over a long period of time. And in order to further study the effects of residing in Space for long periods of time, scientists from NASA set an initiative to construct an experiment. They initiated a study involving a set of twins (Scott and Mark Kelly) due to their similar strands of DNA which would make it possible to study the changes in DNA with a reliable control group. For their experiment, they sent one twin Scott, up to Space while the other twin Mark, stayed down on Earth for a full year. Then after the passing of a full year, Scott came back to Earth and scientists collected and analyzed both sets of DNA to search for differences and development.
It turns out, the journey to Outer Space set off firework explosions that involved thousands of genes turning off and on. This characteristic continued to persist, even after the astronaut’s return to Earth. Not only that, scientists also noted that traveling out to Space also caused the telomere’s in Scott’s cells to grow which surprisingly contrasted the scientist’s original hypothesis; that the telomeres would shrink due to the stress of living in space. Telomeres are the caps built at the end of our chromosomes and protect them. Telomeres are known to shrink as we get older, and are affected by several factors including stress, smoking, poor diet, and a lack of exercise. But oddly enough, the telomeres returned to a normal size after Scott’s return to Earth. A trip to Outer Space also alters the proportion of bacteria that reside in your gut. Their finding stated that the density of one bacteria grew immensely and completely blew the proportionate ratio to one side. And like the telomeres, the levels of this specific bacteria died back down after the descent to Earth.
Overall, this study supported the concept that space travel boosts methylation. Methylation is the process of adding methyl groups to DNA molecules which helps subdue gene transcription. I found the effects of methylation to be interesting as we just finished a unit through which we discussed telomeres as wells as the activation of varying genes. And although some of these aftereffects gradually wore out after returning to Earth, they were significant enough for the scientists to decide to pursue the information gathered. My previous knowledge due to our discussions on this subject helped me in reading and understanding about this experiment more effectively. This research helped add to the precedence of molecular effects that can be traced back to residing in Outer Space over an extended period of time.
- Gushanas, Timothy. “Fireworks in Space: NASA’s Twins Study Explores Gene Expression.” NASA, NASA, 24 Oct. 2017, www.nasa.gov/feature/fireworks-in-space-nasa-s-twins-study-explores-gene-expression.
- Hays, Brooks. “Early Results from NASA’s Twins Study: Space Encourages Gene Expression.” UPI, UPI, 25 Oct. 2017, www.upi.com/Science_News/2017/10/25/Early-results-from-NASAs-Twins-Study-Space-encourages-gene-expression/1791508934803/.
- Wall, Mike. “NASA ‘Twins Study’ Shows How Spaceflight Changes Gene Expression.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 27 Oct. 2017, www.scientificamerican.com/article/nasa-ldquo-twins-study-rdquo-shows-how-spaceflight-changes-gene-expression/.