NASA has selected a Northwestern-led research team as one of 10 groups across the country to conduct investigations related to its unique “twin study” of how a year living in space affects the human body.
The team includes colleagues at Rush University Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago. The project is titled “Metagenomic Sequencing of the Bacteriome in GI Tract of Twin Astronauts.”
Scott and Mark Kelly — identical twins and veteran astronauts — will be participating in the study of the effects of long-term space missions, such as a mission to Mars. They are the only twins who have both been in space.
Beginning next March, Scott Kelly will spend a year at the International Space Station — the longest space mission ever assigned to a NASA astronaut — while his brother remains on Earth, at home in Arizona with his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
“We are like little kids again — everyone wants to be a part of this fascinating study in space,” said Northwestern circadian rhythm expert Fred W. Turek, who will lead the team studying how the space environment affects the microbiota in the intestinal tract.
The complex ecological microbiology community that inhabits the human gastrointestinal tract (GI) tract influences normal physiology and behavior and susceptibility to disease, but the effects of spaceflight on the human microbiome remains unknown.
“It is imperative that studies be carried out on long-term missions in space so that any adverse changes can be identified and countermeasures can be employed to insure the safety and health of our astronauts on extended spaceflight missions,” Turek said.