Update – Turns out the original report by Business Insider was not completely accurate. According to a statement released by NASA Johnson Space Center News Chief Kelly O. Humphries, “Mark and Scott Kelly are still identical twins. Scott’s DNA did not fundamentally change. What researchers did observe are changes in gene expression, which is how your body reacts to your environment. This likely is within the range for humans under stress, such as mountain climbing or SCUBA diving.”
If you’re a fan of comic books involving superheroes, space seems to be a recurring theme where due to a meteoroid crashing into Earth or there being some kind of solar flare that our heroes get caught in, they can somehow gain super powers. As it turns out, this isn’t too far from the truth.
According to the preliminary results of NASA’s Twin Study, they discovered that when they sent astronaut Scott Kelly into space, he came back a changed man. No, Kelly did not receive any super powers (at least none that we know about), but rather based on their study, it seems that Kelly’s DNA has been altered where it is no longer identical to his identical twin, Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth.
The study found that Kelly’s time in space, which was about a year, resulted in the transformation of about 7% of his DNA related to at least five biological pathways and functions. Such changes included hypoxia in his cells, possible damage to mitochondria, changes in length in Kelly’s telomeres, collagen, blood clotting, and bone formation.
It is believed that these changes were due to fluid shifts and being in zero gravity, and these are important findings as there are plans to launch a three-year mission to Mars. If scientists are hoping to successfully launch a three-year mission to Mars, understanding how being in space affects one’s DNA (for the better or worse) is no doubt an integral one.