Mitochondrial Changes Could Be Key To Human Health Problems In Space
Astronauts go through some pretty intense physical training, and there’s a good reason for that. Space is really tough on the human body, and scientists may just have found out why.
There are a whole range of health issues that can develop from spending lengthy time in space, including cardiovascular problems and sleep disruption. Now, scientists believe that these issues could all stem from one thing: mitochondria.
Mitochondria – or the ‘powerhouse’ of the cell as you were probably taught in school – are responsible for generating our cells’ chemical energy. According to new research published in the journal Cell, mitochondrial activity changes while in space, potentially explaining many of the health changes experienced by astronauts. Scientists first noticed the issue in rodents, discovering that tissue from mice sent on different space missions frequently indicated mitochondrial disfunction was the root cause of problems from eyesight to liver function.
The same thing became apparent in humans too, after NASA astronaut Scott Kelly was found to have experienced changes to his immune system during his year in space as part of NASA’s Twin Study (Kelly’s identical twin, Mark, is a retired astronaut and newly elected US Senator.) Scientists observed similar changes to Kelly’s mitochondria, with blood and urine samples for a number of other astronauts providing further evidence to back up this theory.
Afshin Beheshti, lead author of the study, said:
We’ve found a universal mechanism that explains the kinds of changes we see to the body in space, and in a place we didn’t expect.
Everything gets thrown out of whack and it all starts with the mitochondria.
NASA were able to analyse space biology data using their open-source GeneLab platform, which offers a wide-ranging database of cell information. The scientists say that while their findings confirm that astronauts can face significant health consequences from spending time in space, discovering the root cause could be key to helping prevent or treat these problems going forward, helping scientists live safely both in orbit and once they return to Earth.
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