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NASA Space Science

No, Space Did Not Permanently Alter 7 Percent of Scott Kelly's DNA (theverge.com) 51

Several stories this week have proclaimed that the DNA of former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly changed during his year living on the International Space Station. The stories say that 7 percent of his genes did not return back to normal when he came back to Earth. It makes it seem as if the space environment permanently altered his genetic code. The problem? That's not true. From a report: The mistake stems from an inaccurate interpretation of NASA's ongoing Twins Study. When Scott went to space in 2015, his identical twin Mark -- also a former NASA astronaut -- stayed on the ground. The idea was that Mark would serve as a control subject -- a nearly identical genetic copy that NASA could use to figure out how the space environment changed Scott's body. Some fascinating results have come out of the experiment. For one thing, Scott's gut bacteria changed significantly while he was in space. And yes, he did experience genetic changes. The protective caps on the ends of his DNA strands -- known as telomeres -- increased while in space. But space didn't permenantly alter 7 percent of his DNA. [...] NASA also confirmed this in a statement to The Verge: "Scott's DNA did not fundamentally change," a NASA spokesperson said. "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."
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No, Space Did Not Permanently Alter 7 Percent of Scott Kelly's DNA

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  • Aging slowed down? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SCVonSteroids ( 2816091 ) on Friday March 16, 2018 @06:36AM (#56268487)

    Telomere increase? Maybe I'm just lacking a couple morning coffees here but doesn't that mean the effects of aging would be much less present in space?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 16, 2018 @06:42AM (#56268503)

      Yep. There is a tradeoff though: longer telomeres means increased susceptibility to cancer. We know how to make telomerase (a natural enzyme that grows telomeres), but there's a reason we've only been doing it to lab rats so far.

    • I'd guess it had something to do with acclimating to the higher radiation, but that's just spit balling.
    • Every cell has differences in gene expression from another cell. So it's hard to say what they are talking about from a press release. But one assumes they are seeing large globally different changes of the kind one might call epi-gentic. If that's the case this is non trivial. It means he's living in a new equilibrium state of his gene expression. As an example, female and male alligators have identical genomes but their sex is determined epi-gentically by altering gene expression.

      • by slew ( 2918 )

        Every cell has differences in gene expression from another cell. So it's hard to say what they are talking about from a press release. But one assumes they are seeing large globally different changes of the kind one might call epi-gentic. If that's the case this is non trivial. It means he's living in a new equilibrium state of his gene expression. As an example, female and male alligators have identical genomes but their sex is determined epi-gentically by altering gene expression.

        Although you are likely on to something when you say the changes were epi-genetic, there is growing evidence that this may be a common mechanism than initially thought.

        Modern research has indicated that although DNA and histone methylation tend to be correlated with fairly long-term, stable conversion of gene expression (say like sex expression), demethylation can often occur on a much shorter term scale and in response to environmental factors. Not much is known about the demethylation process, but some s

  • by houghi ( 78078 )

    If so, is it to Charleze Theron? Because then we might start to get worried.

    • If he's married to Charleze Theron, no problem.

      On the other hand, if he's married to Charlize Theron then we really do have a problem.

  • by DrTJ ( 4014489 ) on Friday March 16, 2018 @06:37AM (#56268491)

    If you read up on telomeres, e.g. here http://learn.genetics.utah.edu... [utah.edu] you learn that telomeres are shortened for every DNA copy (which occurs at every cell division). The report states that the telomeres increased in length while in space. Two completely different thoughts crossed my mind:
    1) Staying in space may thus decrease the cancer probability (alternatively increase life expectancy)?? Quite counter-intuitive considering the bombardment of ionizing radiation from space.
    2) How on earth (pun intended) can the telomeres GROW? What is the mechanism for that? Do they grow in absolute sense, or didn't they just decrease as much compared to the twin?

    Either the article is wrong/misinterpreted, or there is a mechanism to be discovered (?) that prolongs the telomers. The latter sounds like an ingredient in the water from the fountain of youth...

  • As the genome is the collection of genes, the transcriptome is the collection of gene transcripts (expressed genes). As most learn in biology 101, the flow of information (generally) goes DNA -> RNA -> Protein (also called the central dogma of molecular biology). The RNA transcriptome is an exceptionally dynamic entity, changing over time and space normally.

    Now if we can get more information on which genes changed the most in transcription while in space, that would be really interesting. Hopefully there is a paper coming up on that, or a data dump that we'll see soon so bioinformaticists can mine it.
  • . . . .that the Reptoids or the Greys replaced him with a replicant clone! (grin)

    (Insert obligatory "I'm not saying it was Aliens. . . but it was Aliens!" photomeme here. . . )

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 16, 2018 @07:40AM (#56268625)
    If you look at the quality of technical reporting today, 99% of it just sucks from the major sources like AP and big print news. Part of this is technology is moving so fast most reporters don't have the skills or experience to understand. It's not fair to expect them to keep up to date, when engineers in the field have a tough time keeping up.

    The other problem is the total shit job public education is doing with science. They're not teaching kids to use the scientific method to analyze things. They're teaching kids to pass tests. It's not the fault of the good teachers trying their best to educate kids. The system fucking broken. Schools get less funding if their test scores aren't good, which means teachers have to prepare the kids to do well on standardized tests. Teaching a kid to think analytically doesn't always translate to doing well on tests.

    • Ya think? It's not exactly a growth industry that attracts the best and brightest.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Have you ever met a journalist? The fact that they chose journalism at all as a career should tell you all that you need to know about their ability to think critically.

  • "National Sea and Scuba-diving Administration".
    Doesn't quite roll off the tongue that well.
  • Nobody's DNA is static, natural background radiation, replication errors and other damage alter your DNA permanently all the time. Your body is trying to correct those errors, but about 1 in 10,000 base pairs are altered every time DNA replicates. When you are a child, your DNA is different from when you are an elderly adult. You accumulate damage throughout your life, but have so many base pairs that the damage is a low percentage. Still, it can lead to cancer and other disease.

    Space is worse - radia

  • It was chemtrails not space.

    Science ftw!
  • by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Friday March 16, 2018 @02:21PM (#56270925)
    He would have come back as a damn orangutan. Oh, wait, actually I think dolphin would be 7% DNA difference. Yeah, you think that was maybe false? I heard it and immediately knew it was bullshit.
  • Humans and chimpanzees chare 98.8% of their DNA. I guess if 7% of your DNA changes, you really would be an alien.

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