Study Investigates Changes in Microbiota During Space Flight Using Twin Astronauts, One in Space and One on Earth

Northwestern University researchers studying the gut bacteria of Scott (photo) and Mark Kelly, NASA astronauts and identical twin brothers, as part of a unique human study have found that changes to certain gut "bugs" occur in space. The Northwestern team is one of ten NASA-funded research groups studying the Kelly twins to learn how living in space for a long period of time -- such as a mission to Mars -- affects the human body. While Scott spent nearly a year in space, his brother, Mark, remained on Earth, as a ground-based control. "We are seeing changes associated with spaceflight, and they go away upon return to Earth," said Dr. Fred W. Turek, the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Biology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwester. He is a co-leader of the study. "It's early in our analysis, so we don't know yet what these changes mean," said Dr. Martha H. Vitaterna, study co-leader and Research Associate Professor of Neurobiology at Northwestern. "We don't know what it is about spaceflight that is driving the changes in gut microbes." The research team includes collaborators from Rush University Medical School and the University of Illinois at Chicago. "We will be working closely with the other Twins Study teams to piece together a more complete picture of the effects of long space missions," Dr. Turek said. "What we learn will help us safeguard the health of astronauts, and it will also help us improve human health on Earth." Dr. Turek reported his team's preliminary research results at NASA's Human Research Program's annual Investigators' Workshop, held last week in Galveston, Texas. This was the first meeting where the researchers with the 10 Twins Study teams, which are looking at different aspects of the twins' physiology, could share their data with each other.
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