After spending a year in space, astronaut Scott Kelly’s immune system sounded the alarm. Also, researchers note that some of its genes have changed activity. Studies were cited when comparing performance with his twin brother Mark, who spent this year on Earth.
Scientists do not yet know whether these are good or bad changes. However, the obtained results pose new questions for doctors about the influence of the space environment on the human body. Let's not forget that NASA is preparing to send people to Mars.
Tests on genetic twins provided a unique opportunity to study the details of human biology. For example, we managed to see what activity the astronaut genes demonstrate in space and at home. So far, researchers have only reported that Kelly's immune system was hyperactive.
From the very beginning of the space research, NASA studied the organisms of astronauts, tracking the loss of bone mass, which they tried to compensate by exercises. Usually the flight lasts about 6 months. But Kelly spent 340 days on the ISS, setting a new record for the United States. Scott admitted that he never felt normal in space. He was experiencing headaches and it was difficult for him to concentrate due to an excess of carbon dioxide. There were complaints of digestion due to microgravity. However, the study allowed to dive into the molecular level when comparing two brothers. Full results have not yet been published, but gene hyperactivity is striking. This is not a change in DNA, but there is an effect on increasing / decreasing the production of proteins. Also noted a surge in the blood of another marker that stimulates the immune system. But they noticed fewer cells of a different type that protect against viruses.
In the photo of March 26, 2015, US astronaut and crew member of the ISS, Scott Kelly (right), is standing behind the glass in the quarantine room of the Baikonur cosmodrome (Russia). Next to him is his brother and astronaut Mark Kelly. Spent year in space influenced Scott Kelly genes
Gene activity changes in space in response to various types of stress. The good news is that almost all indicators returned to normal after the astronaut returned to Earth in March 2016. But immune genes are endowed with memory and even after 6 months showed unusual results.
The twin studies have provided a specific list of markers that will be tracked in the following missions to compare with other astronauts. It will be possible to conduct a series of special tests on the spot, rather than freezing samples for earth scientists. Astronauts find themselves in orbit with their own stock of germs, receiving influence from other germs as a member of the crew. For example, Jerry Lininger, who had never been ill, returned to Earth after 4 months in space and could not recover for a long time.
All these studies are important, because the flight to Mars in the 2030s. will take 30 months, including a surface mission. The main concern is radiation, both on the planet itself, and the dose from galactic cosmic rays during transportation. The earth is protected by a magnetic field, but astronauts are devoid of such luxury.
Next year, Kelly will turn 55, and he says that he will happily go to Mars. He is not afraid of a long journey and believes that it will be more difficult to cope not with radiation, but with flights lasting for years.