The latest in space technology meets biology with the new study geared towards combining human and tardigrade DNA for space travel. Geneticist Chris Mason has been investigating how space affects human genes and how spaceflight can be extended further by conquering the negative effects of the flight.
Mason, who is also an associate professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell University, leads a team among the ten studying Mark and Scott Kelly, two twin astronauts at NASA. Scott spent almost a year at the International Space Station in 2015 while Mark remained on earth. Mason and his team studied the duo, comparing how their bodies reacted to the different environments, uncovering a wealth of data in the process. He says that the study might shed more light on ways of better protecting astronauts on long missions, including combining specifics with tardigrade DNA. Tardigrades are highly resistant microorganisms capable of surviving in space.
The scientists are conducting studies on how certain genes behave, also during the flight, including takeoff and landing. Among the challenges, being studied is exposure to radiation, which is one of the factors tardigrades can withstand. The team, however, expressed that they are not ready to prescribe anything now because research has been limited to just two people, rendering the data insufficient. Mason added that the study is not likely to be completed soon and will take decades of research and tests before completion.
In addition, he explained that the edited genes would most likely occur as a natural result of evolution as the astronauts stay longer and longer in space and Mars. He also commented on the ethical aspect of the project, saying that genetically editing humans might be considered acceptable if the test subjects can survive on both Earth and Mars comfortably, adding that taking away their capabilities to survive on earth would be unjust. The concept was first released in a 2016 paper and is part of seven other papers the team is working on with data from Scott and Mark. However, Mason said that the research is not likely to be completed soon and will take decades of research and tests before completion.
The scientists are also working on epigenetic engineering as part of the solution to space travel problems. Mason explained that this is a form of engineering that would activate or deactivate the production of particular genes during and after the flight.
This post was originally published on Financial Sector