28.4 C
New Delhi
Sunday 20 October 2019
Sci-Tech Genes change due to space travel?

Genes change due to space travel?

93% of a space traveller’s genes returned to normal after landing while 7% did not, pointing to possible long-term changes causing DNA alterations, bone adjustments, hypoxia and hypercapnia

-

- Advertisment -

New Delhi: Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly, the twin astronaut brothers, have been in the news. They have been part of an experiment reminiscent of the infamous Mengele experiments with twins in the Nazi era. Like Mengele, the experimenters sought to exploit the nearly identical genes to study genetic changes, and unlike Mengele, the experiments conducted were far from gruesome, in fact, exciting to be precise.

The experiment, dubbed “Twin Study” by NASA, involved studying the effect of space travel on the genetic makeup. For this, Scott Kelly made his trip to the international space station where he stayed for 340 days while his brother remained on earth as a control subject. Scott returned to earth about two years ago and has been studied ever since.

Space travel and its effect on the human body have been studied in the past. Among various effects space travel has on human beings, elongation of the telomeres is widely popular (telomeres are the “capping regions” of chromosomes and their shortening is directly related to ageing). Other known effects can be described as deleterious at best, which include muscle atrophy, deterioration of the skeleton, a weakened immune system and so on. The Kelly brothers have, for the first time, provided an opportunity for the effect of space travel to be studied just like in laboratories with a control and a test subject, thanks to their near-identical genetic makeup.

Scott Kelly’s re-entry into earth received immense attention from the scientific community as well as the media. The observations from the studies found great attention from the general public too. So, on the one hand, NASA declared in one of its press releases that “93% of Scott’s genes returned to normal after landing. However, the remaining 7% point to possible long-term changes in genes related to his immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia.” On the other, the media speculated changes in the genetic makeup of Scott Kelly, some even claiming that Scott was no longer genetically identical to Mark!

What the press release actually intended to say was that Scott’s gene expression had changed. In simple terms, the genes were the same, but what they produced and the amount of the production had changed. This, to be fair is not an uncommon phenomenon. Mountaineers, deep-sea divers, all experience changes in their gene expression, which returns to normal levels after the stress-inducing factor is withdrawn. What is surprising in this case is that the changes observed have persisted even after two years; the gene expression of 7% of Scott Kelly remains altered compared to his brother.

This essentially means that although the genetic makeup of the brothers hasn’t changed, the way the genes behave has. The genes which were found altered in their expression have been termed “space genes”, which include genes “related to [Scott Kelly’s] immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia [excess carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.”

What this means in the long term will have to be evaluated and studied. As for now, NASA is continuing with its studies and definitive answers can be hoped to be achieved when the research findings are formally published.

Subscribe to our newsletter

You will get all our latest news and articles via email when you subscribe

The email despatches will be non-commercial in nature
Disputes, if any, subject to jurisdiction in New Delhi
Avatar
Chaitali Bhattacharjee
PhD in molecular biology, former Young Scientist, working in the life science and healthcare industry since 2007

Leave a Reply

Opinion

Karva Chauth: Faith, legend behind viewing the moon through a sieve

The legend and Karva Chauth rituals vary across Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and, in south India, Andhra Pradesh

Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, Here We Come!

Study Wuhan and Mamallapuram in the backdrop of the fact that things are not quite working out in China-Pakistan economic relations, notwithstanding the urge of the communist state to contain India and that of the Islamic state to challenge it

Slowdown Has Reasons Other Than GST, Demonetisation

When all economic sectors decline, the mood of the market turns sombre, turning investors all the more reluctant to pump in money; the interdependence of industries means that the slowdown suffered by one would affect many

Where China & India, Resisting & Improving Democracy, Meet

What you see in Hong Kong is China resisting democracy; what you see in Kashmir is India promoting it; a reasonably capitalist China does not offer freedom politically but India, held back at times by the choice of the people, is still opening up; there could be a point of convergence as the two nations move in opposite directions

Omega-3: Study published in BMJ claiming no benefit for type 2 diabetes has myopic vision

Most respondents in the omega-3 study published in the BMJ are from Europe and North America; such results can hardly be applied worldwide
- Advertisement -

Elsewhere

Qureshi: Manmohan Singh welcome as ordinary pilgrim

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi claims former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had himself expressed a desire to visit Kartarpur as an ordinary pilgrim

Mosquitoes of Delhi scared Mughals and Brits, too

While books written in Persian in the era of Akbar talk of floral extracts' use as mosquito repellants, the Brits found the Mughal Red Fort uninhabitable because of the menace of the same pests

PIL before Ayodhya verdict to scrap Act on places of worship

Hindus would hardly complain that their faith is held ransom to legality as the PIL challenges their right to question some historical wrongs

Indrani Mukerjea claims to have bribed Chidambarams with $ 50,00,000

When Indrani and Peter Mukerjea approached Chidambaram for FIPB approval for FDI in INX Media, the then finance minister had allegedly sought the bribe

‘Moulding of relief’ affidavits for Ayodhya filed in Supreme Court

Know the provision of moulding of relief given to all parties to the dispute when they have argued their respective cases but the verdict is as yet reserved

You might also likeRELATED
Recommended to you

%d bloggers like this: