In one of the more bizarre studies ever undertaken by NASA, it was decided to investigate the difference between identical twins, if one remained on earth, and the other spent a year in space. It would be imagined only in science fiction novels, but it turned out that changes to the brother in space occurred on a molecular level.
NASA is calling the research ground breaking. Official reports and investigations have yet to be carried out, but early reports say that the way we look at space travel could be changed forever. And with such a fascination on the topic, with everything from online slots games to books and series being devoted to exploring new planets, this is certainly saying something.
But just how big are the changes, and can one brother officially still be called the identical twin of the other? Let’s take a closer look.
The two brothers who took part in the experiment are Mark and Scott Kelly. Scott spent a year in space, while his brother, Mark, remained on earth. A number of other identical twins are also set to participate in the experiment, but Mark and Scott are the first to have preliminary results.
It is first important to understand that base levels of changes happen to people’s bodies, depending on where they are, and the circumstances they are involved in. A person undergoing stress, for example, can have enormous changes occur in their body, simply from the situation. But, even with these base changes taken into account, and allowed for, it was seen that about 7% of Scott’s DNA was different from his brothers.
However, these changes were only related to gene expression. In other words; Mark and Scott are still identical twins.
So Scott’s DNA did not change in any fundamental way, which may disappoint fans of science fiction. The changes, which related to only a tiny part of Scott’s DNA, were only regarding what is known as gene expression.
Gene expression relates to how a person’s body responds to environmental changes. Such changes are also seen when a person travels to a new location, with a different climate, or undergoes a stressful activity such as mountain climbing. Either way, the changes were clear to see in Scott’s DNA, making him different from his identical twin.
NASA undergoes various studies on a constant basis, with the intention of more deeply understanding outer space. But, NASA is also interested in how being in outer space affects humans. The so called Twin Study project is regarded as the perfect way to monitor what happens to a person, when they spend an extended time in outer space conditions. Of course, given that astronauts are likely to be spending more and more time away from earth, it is important to understand what happens to the body.
These studies link specifically to the three-year mission to Mars that NASA is already planning. The mission will, as can be guessed, involve sending astronauts to Mars over the course of three years. This mission will be the most ambitious ever launched by NASA, with many already speculating on how the events might unfold. There is no telling how a person’s DNA may look after three years on the red planet, but we may yet get to find out, should the mission go ahead.