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Space, Man

NASA’s Twin Study Looks At What A Year In Space Could Do To Your Genes

Your kid doesn’t need to be into Elon Musk’s dad jokes to be into space. (Although, it helps if they’re into yours, because who else is gonna pay for space camp?) And thanks to a new, groundbreaking study out of NASA’s Human Research Lab, they don’t have to be “astronaut material” to learn what it’s really like to live in space, either. The research compared how a year in space affects the body by taking one astronaut off the Earth and leaving his twin brother on it.

Scott Kelley and Mark Kelley are fortunately both twins and astronauts, so they were really the only 2 who could pull this off. During the experiment, Scott spent a year aboard the International Space Station and his brother stayed home. For the first time ever, scientists could compare space living versus earthbound living using identical DNA. Biological samples were taken of both before, during, and after Scott returned last March. And while the massive amount of data is still being processed, the study‘s early results are pretty damn groovy.

mark and scott kelly

Mark and Scott Kelly / Wikimedia Commons

For starters, researchers found that living in space could cause a shift in the natural ratio of gut microbiome. If you thought a life on Mars would mean you could stop taking probiotics, think again.

The study also looks at telomeres, the cuffs that protect the tips of chromosomes, which get shorter with age and lead to chromosomes unraveling like a shoelace without a cap. This unraveling causes physical and mental weakness to increase with age.

Early results show that Scott’s (the space twin) telomeres increased in length in space over the course of the year. Though this could be due to a number of factors including Scott’s stricter diet and exercise regimen, it could suggest the kind of time dilation reserved for a Matthew McConaughey movie. Several genetic mutations were observed between the twins as well. These could be normal variants, but scientists are investigating if there’s such a thing as a “space gene” — not to be confused with space jeans, and those are technically Zubaz.

While this is a lot of freeze-dried food for thought, you don’t have to figure it all out yet. NASA is working on it, and you and your little space case can digest it as it comes. But if you’re raising identical twins, you might want to start saving for space camp, not to mention college, because NASA could probably use more of them.

[H/T] Science Daily