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Exposure to radiation can affect DNA: Astronauts on long-duration missions in space at risk 

Exposure to radiation can affect DNA: Astronauts on long-duration missions in space at risk
Scientists have measured the levels of chromosome alterations from radiation and other factors before and after a space mission.   s countries rush to the Moon, with plans afoot for future manned exploration of Mars and beyond, one of the biggest threats to astronauts is being exposed to radiation in space. Researchers at the International Space Station (ISS) have now detected and measured the radiation exposure damage to astronauts during spaceflight.

Astronauts on board the flying outpost have continuously been studying 
ways to reduce the risks of the hazards of spaceflight and develop capabilities to predict space radiation exposure for future exploration missions.

In a study published in the journal Nature-Scientific Reports, scientists demonstrate how the sensitivity of an individual astronaut’s DNA to radiation exposure on Earth can predict their DNA’s response during spaceflight as measured by changes to their chromosomes.

Radiation exposure for astronauts

As part of the research, scientists studied blood samples of 43 crew missions taken pre-flight and post-flight. While pre-flight blood samples were exposed to varying doses of gamma rays, post-flight blood samples were collected shortly and several months after landing.

“We wanted to know if it is possible to detect and measure radiation exposure damage in the bodies of astronauts, and if there were differences based on age, sex, and other factors that could be measured before they go into space,” said senior scientist Honglu Wu from Nasa’s Johnson Space Center. Researchers studied the impact of these radiations on the chromosomes of astronauts. Chromosomes contain our bodies’ DNA building blocks, and altering them can increase the risk of developing cancer and other diseases.

During the experiment, scientists measured the levels of chromosome alterations from radiation and other factors before and after a mission. These alterations to chromosomes are observed in a very small percentage of individual cells within a person’s blood.

Here’s what they found

As part of the study, scientists conducted three measurements, first, they analysed blood samples of astronauts before they flew to the ISS, to assess their baseline chromosomal status, then these blood samples were intentionally exposed to gamma-ray radiation on Earth to measure how easily the cells accumulate changes, and third, after the astronauts returned from their missions, the study team again took blood samples from the individuals to assess their level of chromosomal alterations.

Following the deep analysis of samples scientists found:

  • Older crew members had higher levels of baseline chromosomal irregularities
  • Blood cells of older astronauts were more sensitive to developing chromosomal alterations
  • Crew members with higher inherent sensitivity, as determined by gamma radiation on the ground, were more likely to see higher levels of changes to their chromosomes in their post-flight blood samples compared to those with lower sensitivity
  • Individuals who showed higher baseline chromosomal alterations in their pre-flight blood samples tended to also be more sensitive to developing additional chromosomal changes
  • “The findings suggest that if older astronauts indeed have higher sensitivities to radiation, they might be at higher risk of chromosome alterations,” said Wu.

What is space radiation?

The ISS is permanently exposed to several radiations emerging from the vastness of the cosmos including continuous bombardment of particles from the Sun. Space radiation originates from Earth’s magnetic field, particles shot into space during solar flares, and galactic cosmic rays, which originate outside our solar system.

Continuous exposure to these radiations can lead to cancer alterations to the central nervous system, cardiovascular disease, and other adverse health effects. While astronauts are protected from major radiation in low-earth orbit, due to Earth’s magnetic field, spacecraft shielding and a limited time in space, these factors would dramatically change for long-duration missions.

Therefore, studying these changes is critical so that new ways and medical treatments can be devised.

August 24, 2021 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, radiation, space travel

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