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No, after a year in space Scott Kelly has not changed DNA

Нет, после года в космосе у Скотта Келли не изменилась ДНК

According to the latest news, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly flew into space, spent a year there and came back with a significant change in the DNA.

Some media even reported that as much as 7% of the genes Kelly was “abnormal” after the flight. This statement makes one wonder, indeed, humans and chimpanzees differ not more than 2% of the genotype, and two random people — not more than 0.1%.

The news surprised of Scott Kelly, who learned about mutations of the organism from the article:

“What? My DNA has changed by 7%! Who would have thought? Just found out about it from the article. I guess it’s good! Don’t have to call [Mark Kelly] with his identical twin brother.”

Unfortunately, in these articles, as in many others, misinterpreted the results of a study conducted by NASA. Journalists have confused two different concepts — changes in gene sequence and changes in the level of their expression, explains popular science publishing National Geographic.

Gene expression — the process in which information from a gene is converted into a functional product RNA or protein. In the process of adaptation to external conditions a living organism can change its own structure and functionality, controlling the time, place and quantitative characteristics of individual genes

As often happens, the explanations of genetics to published news few people read. For example, a tweet with the news 5200 retweets (interestingly, the author is a scientist too, although in a different area), but the response to that tweet with an explanation of genetics and the actual refutation of this information — only 1 retweet. Here is another proof that the fake news spread on social media faster than real facts (on this, see the scientific article “The spread of true and false news online” in Science).

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What is actually being studied by scientists in the experiment, the Twins Study, which involves several research groups? They compare two identical (monozygotic) twins Scott and Mark Kelly are trying to identify changes that have occurred in the body of Scott Kelly after a year’s stay in space.

Changes in cognitive abilities, the immune system and genetics. The results of the research will be published later this year, and yet the basis for incorrect interpretation of information was the press release NASA from a risky wording.

In fact, of no change in 7% of the genes, of course, not a speech. The study says about changes in the level of gene expression. It is not surprising that in microgravity the body began to adapt. The study identified which specific genes have changed the degree of expression. Among them are genes for immune system, DNA repair and bone growth.

“Seven percent of the genes that changed their expression during space flight, still has its functionality changed after six months on the Ground,” said Christopher Mason (Christopher Mason), head of a scientific experiment to NASA. This is the essence of the news contained in the press release. This does not mean that the “DNA of an astronaut has not returned to normal”, as wrote mass media.

Christopher Mason said that this is the first study of its kind, so it’s hard to predict what results will be obtained further. But he added that such a change in the level of gene expression is normal for the human body, which was in a stressful situation. For example, the same indicators climbers or divers. And in General, significant changes in the level of gene expression occur in all unusual situations: when a person is sick or involved in unfavorable environmental conditions. Of course, a year in microgravity with a reduced level of oxygen in the air and the increased exposure has led to such changes.

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Speaking specifically about mutations in DNA, each person has these mutations occur throughout life, and there is nothing special. Without a doubt, only because of the increased exposure Scott Kelly will be a bit more of such mutations, than any other man who has lived the same number of years, but never left the Ground, but nothing out of the ordinary. Scientists are much more surprising would be the fact if such mutations did not occur or was less than on Earth.

The most surprising fact among all the data that NASA received the results of the study of the body Scott Kelly — the fact that the telomeres at the ends of chromosomes in white blood cells of astronauts increased in size. Normally, telomeres shorten with age as cell division and thus serve as a natural limiter of the length of biological life of the organism.

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