nasas twins study
© NASA
The Kelly twins
Early results from NASA's twins study show that space travel actually increases the process that controls gene expression called methylation. They've also learned more about how the process works. The preliminary results from the year-long study have been released and they show that during the Twins Study thousands of genes changed, turned on and off, during the time in space, according to NASA.

What is the "Twins Study?"

NASA's Twins Study centers around astronauts and twins Scott and Mark Kelly. The goal was to examine the changes spaceflight could cause on the body by studying two genetically identical individuals who were in different environments. The study actually consists of 10 investigations happening across 12 universities, NASA biomedical labs and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute.

When astronaut Scott Kelly returned from a year on the International Space Station in March 2016, researchers started taking samples from him and his brother to further the research for the study. Then those researchers combined all of their data and started reviewing it all looking for similarities, correlations and differences in the previously identical genes. The point was to help determine that the risks of space travel as we know it, are to the human body, and what changes will happen during long-term continuous space travel.

The twin study is one of the most comprehensive studies on human biology and is providing a bedrock of information for studying the impacts of space travel on the body in the future, Chris Mason one of the Principal Investigators on the Twin Study told NASA.

This research will hopefully help NASA prepare for deep space missions in the future including the eventual mission to Mars. While only the preliminary findings are currently available, NASA expects to share a full published summary of the Twins Study either in late 2017 or early 2018.

It's far more than the behavior of the genes that researchers are looking for. They're all working on slightly different aspects of the impact of space travel on the body like physiology and behavioral health in addition to microbiology and molecular biology.

The Twins Study is part of NASA's Human Research Program that is working to support safe and productive space travel in the future. The research the program is doing now might help researchers come up with a way for astronauts to best adapt to space travel or could result in actual genetic changes that best suit astronauts. Other areas of research besides the Twins Study include research on radiation and the body in space.