spaceSpace and Physics

NASA's Twins Study Just Inspired Some Exciting New Research


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

Mark Kelly (Left) and his brother Scott. Robert Markowitz/NASA

Scientists are continuing to reap dividends from the US and Russia’s groundbreaking Twins Study, looking at US astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly, with more interesting research from the project announced.

Specifically, thanks to the Twins study scientists think they’ve found a better way to get biological samples back to Earth from space. They found that samples that had their cells taken out in space (for study and transport to Earth) were better than those where the sample was frozen, and the cell isolation took place on Earth.


Researchers from NASA came to this conclusion by handling samples on NASA’s zero-gravity plane, known as the Vomit Comet. Here, they used pipettes to move samples around, something that was thought wouldn’t work in microgravity. But this turned out to be okay. The research was published in the journal NPJ Microgravity.

“This analog demonstrated that pipetting of open fluids is relatively simple and easily controlled and that all fluid transfer steps associated with centrifugation can be replicated in microgravity,” investigator Dr Andrew Feinberg said in a statement.

“When dealing with genetic material, research requires the precise transfer of liquids among different types of tubes in order to purify DNA, RNA or protein from biological samples to perform molecular analyses.”

Researchers in the latest study, inspired by the Twins Study, perform research on NASA's Vomit Comet. NASA

In 2015 and 2016, NASA performed this unique experiment on twin astronauts, an opportunity that couldn't be missed for the potential to study the two simultaneously, where one was monitored on the ground and the other on the International Space Station (ISS). Mark Kelly was studied on the ground while Scott Kelly spent over 300 days on the ISS. 


By monitoring both, scientists hoped to learn about the genetic changes prolonged spaceflight caused. Earlier this year, the first results from the study were released, which suggested that Scott’s telomeres grew longer than his brother’s. Researchers also saw changes in the DNA of the twins.

In the Twins Study, cells were stored in a vacuum tube at about 4C. In this latest study, that same method was used to store and then thaw cells. It was thanks to the Twins Study that this latest breakthrough was possible, and it could mean that we get better samples from biological experiments on the ISS in the future.


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