Studying Scott Kelly’s year in space: NASA finds gene changes, no decrease in cognitive ability

Studying Scott Kelly’s year in space: NASA finds gene changes, no decrease in cognitive ability

By Alex Stuckey, Staff Writer

February 7, 2018

Photo: Houston Chronicle File Photo

Astronauts Mark Kelly (right and Scott Kelly are pictured in the check-out facility at Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center. During Scott Kelly’s time on the space station, NASA tracked both brothers’ vitals and body changes. less
Astronauts Mark Kelly (right and Scott Kelly are pictured in the check-out facility at Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center. During Scott Kelly’s time on the space station, NASA tracked both … more
Photo: Houston Chronicle File Photo

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, wearing a headset and a Chibis Lower Body Negative Pressure Suit, undergoes ultrasound measurements.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, wearing a headset and a Chibis Lower Body Negative Pressure Suit, undergoes ultrasound measurements.
Photo: NASA

When Scott Kelly embarked on his yearlong mission on the International Space Station in 2015, both he and NASA were unsure of what to expect.
No one had spent that much time in space before, but the mission was an important one in bringing the space agency one step closer to sending astronauts to Mars — and, hopefully, beyond.

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So when Kelly climbed into the Soyuz (the Russian spacecraft that transports astronauts to the space station) in March 2015, he became the experiment, undergoing numerous tests and tracking his vitals and body changes for more than 300 days. NASA was tracking his twin brother and fellow astronaut, Mark Kelly, at the same time as a means of comparison.

The second phase of findings for that study were released last week, showing that long duration space travel causes long-term changes in genes related to a person’s immune system and DNA repair, for example.
NASA is calling it the “space gene,” though it actually affects hundreds.
When Kelly returned to Earth, scientists found that 93 percent of his genes returned to normal after coming back. But 7 percent experienced longer term changes, according to a Jan. 31 post on NASA’s website.
“This is thought to be from the stresses of space travel,” another post on NASA’s website stated.
Genes that changed include those related to:
Hypoxia (probably from high CO₂levels and lack of oxygen)
Mitochondrial stress and elevated levels of mitochondria in the blood (suggesting damage to the “power plants of cells”)
Length of telomere (the protective caps on the ends chromosomes)
DNA damage and repair (probably from caloric restriction and radiation)
Collagen, bone formation and blood clotting (probably from zero gravity and fluid shifts)

Hyperactive immune activity (from the new environment).
NASA researchers also found that Kelly’s increased time in space did not significantly decrease his cognitive performance on the space station when compared with his twin on the ground.
“However, a more pronounced decrease in speed and accuracy was reported postflight, possibly due to re-exposure and adjustment to Earth’s gravity, and the busy schedule that enveloped Scott after his mission,” NASA stated.
Scott Kelly’s mission also helped scientists learn that spaceflight is associated with increased inflammation and oxygen deprivation, among other things, according to the space agency.
A paper on all NASA’s findings related to Scott Kelly’s long-term mission will be published later this year.

via San Antonio Express-News http://ift.tt/2EnVmIv

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