The Atlantic

How Did Astronaut DNA Become 'Fake News'?

For a brief moment, NASA found itself at the center of a digital misinformation campaign.
Source: Bill Ingalls / NASA / Reuters

“After year in space, astronaut Scott Kelly no longer has same DNA as identical twin,” the headline of a story on the Today show’s website, published Thursday, declared. Seven percent of his DNA, the story says, “has not returned to normal since he returned from space.”

Pretty amazing news, right? Too bad it’s not true.

This week, dozens of news organizations published stories with this or similar information. They cited a NASA study on the effects of space travel on the human body, with two subjects: astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly, identical twins. In 2015, Scott flew to the International Space Station and lived there for 340 days—a record for an American astronaut—while Mark stayed on Earth. Scientists examined the twins before, during, and after the mission.

While the study certainly detected some interesting changes in Scott after his return, space did not alter 7 percent of Scott’s DNA, the genetic code found in the cells in our bodies that makes us what we are.

Our cells have the same genes, which are made up of the same DNA, but genes behave differently; that’s how some cells produce hearts while others build lungs. The way genes are expressed be affected by changes in the underlying sequence of DNA, by the random mutations we

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