When they examined decades-old blood samples from 14 NASA astronauts who flew on space shuttle missions between 1998 and 2001, the researchers found that samples from all 14 astronauts showed mutations in their DNA. Futurism reports: While these mutations are likely low enough not to pose a serious threat to astronauts’ long-term health, the research underscores the importance of regular health screenings for astronauts, especially as they embark on longer missions to the Moon and beyond in the coming years. The specific mutations, as identified in a new study published in the journal Nature Communications Biology, were characterized by a high proportion of blood cells coming from a single clone, a phenomenon called clonal hematopoiesis. Mutations like this can be caused by exposure to excess ultraviolet radiation and other forms of radiation, including chemotherapy. In this case, the researchers are suspicious that the mutations may have been the result of space radiation.
“Astronauts work in an extreme environment where many factors can result in somatic mutations, most importantly space radiation, which means there is a risk that these mutations can progress to clonal hematopoiesis,” says lead author David Goukassian, professor of medicine at the Icahn School. of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in a statement. The blood samples for this latest study were collected from 12 male and two female astronauts ten days before their flight and on the day of their landing. The samples were then cryogenically stored at -112 degrees Fahrenheit for about two decades. The mutations observed in the blood samples resemble the kind of somatic mutations we see in older individuals—which is interesting in itself, given that the median age of the astronauts was only 42.
“Although the clonal hematopoiesis we observed was of a relatively small magnitude, the fact that we observed these mutations was surprising given the relatively young age and health of these astronauts,” Goukassian said. “The presence of these mutations does not necessarily mean that the astronauts will develop cardiovascular disease or cancer,” he added, “but there is a risk that this could happen over time through sustained and long-term exposure to the extreme environment of the deep space..” Therefore, Goukassian and his team recommend that NASA regularly screen astronauts for these kinds of mutations.