It Takes Two
Ground breaking news about twins came out this past week. News that can potentially affect generations to come.
No, not that. An even more iconic duo in the scientific community.
Mark and Scott Kelly, identical twin NASA astronauts and only siblings to ever travel in outer space, participated in a year long comparative genetic study on how space impacts the human body. Scott spent 340 days in space while Mark chilled solo on Earth.
Why identical twins? In utero, the zygote, the cell after the egg is fertilized by a sperm, splits and forms two embryos. The pair of embryos have the nearly same DNA meaning that Mark and Scott Kelly are human clones of each other. Mark was the control to the experiment on Scott.
Both brothers had biological samples taken from them before, during, and after the mission. One of their findings was the difference in the brothers’ telomeres, or an area at the end of chromosomes that protects it from deterioration or fusion with other chromosomes. As you age, the length of your telomeres shorten, but in the case of Scott Kelly, Dr. Spaceman, the length of his white blood cell telomeres increased. Telomerase activity, the enzyme that lengthens and repairs the cells, increased in both brothers during the month of November, signaling a potential stressful event that happened in the family in the past. While they already found quite a bit, even more information is to come.
NASA wasn’t just doing this experiment for fun. Information from this study can help healthcare here on earth, potentially helping personalize preventative healthcare. Also, one of the next big steps in space travel is for people to go to Mars. Studying the effects of prolonged time in space and the nature versus nurture effect on the body are paramount for understanding before people head to Mars.
So before we can make Matt Damon or Matthew McConaughey’s dreams a reality, we need to do some background research so we don't end up with a Wall-E situation.