01 November 2017

Space epigenetics

Staying in space affects the speed of "turning on" and "turning off" genes

Anna Kerman, XX2 century, based on NASA: Fireworks in Space: NASA's Twins Study Explores Gene Expression

In fantastic works, the bodies of space conquerors continually acquire new properties and abilities under the influence of certain cosmic forces. It turned out that this fiction is not so far from reality.

According to the preliminary results of the new work carried out under the auspices of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States (NASA), staying in space leads to an additional activation of the methylation process responsible for the "on" and "off" of genes. In addition, a new study (it was conducted with the participation of twins) helped scientists better understand the intricacies of methylation.

The so-called "twin study" by NASA (NASA's Twins Study) is devoted to the study of subtle changes that can occur in the body of astronauts staying in space. At the same time, the study participants are compared with their remaining twin brothers or sisters on Earth.

The lead author of the "twin study" NASA Chris Mason (Chris Mason) from the medical department of Cornell University (Weill Cornell Medicine) says: "Watching the changes in gene expression in space, we, most surprisingly, saw something like fireworks. In the course of our work, we saw how thousands and thousands of genes begin to "turn on" and "turn off" in a new way. This begins as soon as the astronaut is in space, and part of this activity persists until the moment of return to Earth."

When astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth in March 2016, scientists collected samples of biomaterial from him and his twin brother (also an astronaut) Mark Kelly. Then the researchers began to process the huge amount of information received, looking for connections.

Mason explains: "Our study represents one of the most comprehensive views on human biology. It is really able to form the basis for the formation of ideas about the molecular risks of space travel, as well as about ways to protect against these genetic changes."

The final results of NASA's "twin study" will be published in 2018.

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