The Surprising Way Your Genes Can Change in Space, According to NASA

This. Is. Fascinating.

SpaceVadim Sadovski/ShutterstockNot gonna lie—at one point or another, we have all wondered what it would really be like to visit outer space. If you’d rather explore the galaxy from the comfort of your own home, you can always take a virtual tour of the International Space Station using Google Maps. But for all you thrill-seekers out there, NASA just gave us a glimpse of what exactly space travel does to our bodies. Going to space might even alter our DNA, according to NASA’s Twin Study.

To learn more about how human bodies react to outer space, researchers examined genetic samples from Mark and Scott Kelly, who are twins and both retired NASA astronauts. Scott Kelly spent over 11 months in space last year. After he returned to Earth, NASA collected samples from both of the twins, scouring the data for correlations between Scott’s genes and those of his “control,” Mark.

“This study represents one of the most comprehensive views of human biology,” Twins Study principal investigator Dr. Chris Mason of Weill Cornell Medicine said in a statement. “It really sets the bedrock for understanding molecular risks for space travel, as well as ways to potentially protect and fix those genetic changes.”

Although the complete results have not been published yet, NASA unveiled some of its preliminary findings. One of the genetic studies revealed that Scott Kelly’s telomeres (located at the end of a DNA chromosome) grew longer than Mark’s during his time in space. They also discovered that Scott’s genes changed how they were turned on and off—a process called methylation—as soon as the astronaut left Earth’s atmosphere. Those changes remained for a short period of time after he returned to Earth, too.

“Some of the most exciting things that we’ve seen from looking at gene expression in space is that we really see an explosion, like fireworks taking off, as soon as the human body gets into space,” Mason said.

Cool stuff, right? Almost as cool as putting your name on Mars or earning a six-figure salary to protect the Earth from aliens, in our opinion.

[Source: IFL Science]