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Going to space can cause unprecedented changes in DNA (Interesting Science)

27/11/2017

When Scott went to space he not only grew 2 inches taller compared to his twin, but his DNA also changed!

Space is one of the most extreme environments imaginable due to the low levels of oxygin, exposure to extreme levels of radiation and extreme temperatures. New research carried out by NASA [1] shows that our cell functions change in these extreme condintions to allow our body to survive. 

The study was testing to see if humans would be able to survive a trip to Mars at a molecular levels and compared the DNA of twins before and after one of them went into space. The study found an increase in the methylation rate in the austronaut, which is responsibilefor gene activity to be switched on and off. Not only were thousands of genes switched on and off when the twin entered space, but these changes were still true for a short time once he returned to earth. 

Gene expression is an important process in the body whereby genes produce proteins, which builds our cells and their activities. This process is very important in the bodies ability to deal with stress and in the development of certain diseases. The low oxygen levels in space may cause the body to switch on certain genes to ensure surivival in such extreme conditions and exposure to excessive levels of radiation may cause cells to mutate and may result in the development of cancer. 

They concluded that spending more time in space can lead to unprecedented changes in cell function and undesriable mutations. 

Scientists plan to use CRISPR-Cas9 and other genetic engineering methods to prevent methylation from causing detrimental genetic effects. 

[1] https://www.nasa.gov/twins-study/

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