Twin astronauts and genome alteration
Scott and Mark Kelly are the only absolutely identical astronauts in the world (they are identical twins). At least that was until Scott spent almost a year in zero gravity. Usually astronauts “live” on the ISS for no more than six months, but Scott Kelly was deliberately sent to the station for a longer period – so that the changes in his body were more noticeable. After returning, the researchers compared his performance with his brother: it turned out that Scott’s height increased by almost five centimeters. Besides, its body weight has decreased, the microbiome (a set of microorganisms) of the intestine has almost completely changed, and the genome, if you believe the preliminary analysis, has undergone some changes.
All this allowed NASA experts to declare that the space environment activated a group of “space” genes in Scott Kelly’s body, which affected immunity, bone tissue, vision, hearing, and some other indicators. Despite the fact that most of the changes (for example, growth) returned to the starting point after some time, about 7% of the genes were fixed in the new state. Scientists believe that the cause of what is happening should be sought in “cosmic stress” – the impact on the body of an atypical environment, which the body perceives as a threat, responding to it accordingly. The space environment activated a group of “space” genes in Scott Kelly’s body that influenced immunity, bone tissue, vision, and hearing.
In previous studies, by the way, it was noted that space flights have a special effect on the brain, making it more neuroplastic. According to an experiment conducted at the University of Michigan, the amount of gray matter in some areas of the astronauts decreased, while in others, more needed at the moment – for example, in the areas responsible for the movement of the lower limbs – increased.
At the same time, a team of scientists from the University of Florida found that when traveling to the moon, astronauts have an increased risk of heart problems: based on data received from participants in the Apollo program from 1961 to 1972, they found that space radiation causes about five times more harmful to the heart and blood vessels.
Food with and without rules
Adequate and balanced nutrition is one of the most important problems for cosmonauts in conditions of long flights. Of course, you can rely on the well-known “tubes”, but scientists are not abandoning their attempts to develop something as much like the earthly diet. So far, only lettuce has been grown onboard the ISS, but work on creating a more varied menu does not stop for a minute.
Recently, a research team at the German Neumayer Station III in Antarctica was able to hydroponically grow not only lettuce but also radishes and cucumbers without light and soil. And even though Antarctica is not quite space, the harsh climatic conditions make it possible to develop technologies for growing vegetables (and, in the future, fruits) that will be applicable to the ISS.
As for meat, the Memphis Meats company managed to achieve some success in this, which “grew” meatballs in the laboratory, which taste in no way inferior to traditional ones. Representatives of the company are confident that the introduction of their products into the space diet can occur in the next five years. On the other hand, during this time, Space10, an innovation center, and a special IKEA laboratory can figure out how to recreate in zero gravity their fast food of the future, including hot dogs made of spirulina (blue-green algae) and worm meatballs, so Memphis Meats is not worth it. relax.
A team of scientists from the University of Pennsylvania who have figured out how to turn waste into a food can also compete for the right to feed astronauts. In the process of processing waste in a special closed system, they managed to obtain a culture of Methylococcus capsulatus, which is 52% protein and 36% fat, which can be useful both in long flights and in future attempts to colonize other planets.