Houston…The Samples Have Landed!

NASA Twins Study investigator Susan Bailey, KromaTiD co-founder and Colorado State University Professor, and her team of researchers, Miles McKenna and Lynn Taylor, recently received their first samples from the International Space Station (ISS).  The samples are from NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who is on the ride of his life; the historic one year mission on the ISS.

Scott’s identical twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, remains on earth living in Arizona with his wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.  The samples themselves have already been on a remarkable journey. They returned to earth with departing crew members on the Soyuz capsule, then flew to Johnson Space Center in Houston, arriving in little more than 36 hours after the blood was drawn in space.  A remarkable success story any day of the week!

Using Scott Kelly’s earth bound twin Mark as his ideally matched control, Bailey and her team are studying the effects on aging of extended periods of time in space.  Spaceflight involves a variety of stressors, ranging from unique nutritional, psychological and physical lifestyle factors to exposure to radiations not experienced on earth. Using the samples from both twins, telomere length will be determined and compared. Telomeres (the ends of our chromosomes) shorten with stress and as we age, so are informative biomarkers of how well or how quickly we are aging. Chromosome aberrations will also be evaluated and compared using KromaTiD’s dGH™ assays, as they provide valuable signatures of radiation exposure.  Research from the molecular level – such as that being done here – is being integrated into one, coordinated study that also includes measures of whole body function, cognitive ability, and more.

The Twins Study is NASA’s first foray into “omics” research (genome DNA sequencing, RNA sequencing, methylation/epigenetics, proteomics, metabolomics), and as such represents a unique opportunity to develop personalized medicine approaches to measuring individual responses to spaceflight.  In this arena, KromaTiD will be playing an important and complementary role by designing the dGH assays and validating the candidate structural rearrangements.

This work is part of the NASA Twins Study, a multi-faceted national cooperation involving 10 individual investigations, 12 Universities, NASA biomedical laboratories, and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute Consortium. For more information, check out the following links:

More information on the individual investigations is available on the Twins Study website, which also has daily tweets from and photos taken by Scotty Kelly.

For more details about the Bailey labs contribution to the Twins Study, check out the CSU study article and the Colorado Public Radio interview.

Nature has done an interesting article addressing the ethical issues of privacy and all the genetic information the Twins Study will be generating.

Time magazine is producing a documentary film on the one-year mission. They have launched a website dedicated to covering Kelly and Kornienko throughout their one year mission.

Finally, Time is also doing pieces throughout the year highlighting the various Twins Study investigations, including the CSU study on chromosomes, telomeres and aging.