Twin Astronauts Study Finds That Certain Gut “Bugs” Occur in Space

NASA twin Astronaut, Scott Kelly spent 340 days in space, almost a whole year and he did this in the name of science. Researchers have been busy collecting data and essentially used him as a guinea pig to find out what living in space can do to a human body. The results are fascinating and the “mission” is far from over.

Northwestern University researchers studying the gut bacteria of Scott 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 10 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 Fred W. Turek, the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Biology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. 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 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,” Turek said. “What we learn will help us safeguard the health of astronauts, and it will also help us improve human health on Earth.”