IS SPACE THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH? NASA twins study may provide clue.

Astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year in space aboard the International Space Station while twin brother and former astronaut Mark Kelly stayed on Earth. Meanwhile, scientists studied both men for hints of how extended time in space might affect the human body.

The researchers have started to share some of the preliminary results from this unprecedented study and one tidbit in particular caught my attention. Scott Kelly’s telomeres, which are stretches of DNA that act as a “cap” at the end of chromosomes to protect them from deterioration, grew to be longer than his brother’s during his time in orbit.

What’s interesting about this is that telomeres are associated with aging and longer telomeres are associated with longevity. Stress is one of the things that can shorten telomeres over time. So it was surprising to find that the stress of long-term space travel did not seem to negatively affect Scott Kelly’s telomeres.

“That is exactly the opposite of what we thought,” Susan Bailey, a radiation biologist at Colorado State University working with NASA to study the effect of space on telomeres, told Nature.

The effect seems to be temporary, with telomeres returning to normal after returning to normal Earth gravity, but I wonder if short-but-frequent stays in microgravity could be used to treat aging.