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As an unprecedented space tourism boom brews, we are constantly discovering new ways in which space affects our health

The Space is a spectacular place, yes; but it is also a place full of dangers. Most of them, in fact, are yet to be seen. And it is curious that in a world where space tourism is about to explode, we know so little about the health effects of orbital walks.

Although the worst is not that. The worst thing is that what we are learning does not provide peace of mind. Now an American research team has just found one of the mechanisms by which solar radiation damages astronauts’ DNA and they have put the mitochondria in the spotlight (without knowing, yet, everything we have to discover).

All eyes are on the mitochondria

Mitochondrial DNA loose in the blood Mitochondria, known to be the “power plants” of cells, have their own DNA. We have known for some time that the amount of mitochondrial DNA in the blood is a good predictor of the health of people with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease. Heart failure has also been linked to abnormal function of the mitochondria

Up to 355 times. What researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have just discovered, after analyzing the blood of 14 astronauts who carried out missions of between five and 13 days on the International Space Station between 1998 and 2001, is that floating mitochondrial DNA it was augmented after the trip into space. And not a little, between two and 355 times higher than the levels that those same athletes had before leaving.

Also white blood cells. When examining the white blood cells they discovered a significant increase in them. It was to be expected given the recovery of mitochondrial DNA because it can generate inflammation and leukocytes are markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. Ultimately, what the authors have found is that “there is a vicious cycle” in which radiation causes DNA damage that starts a chain reaction that leads to further DNA damage.

When industry is faster than science– Obviously, the study is very limited: both in size and in duration. Much better monitoring would be needed of all those who travel into space to know the exact risk involved in going up there. However, something tells me that in this field biomedical research will lag behind the space tourism industry. That is, we will see the long-term physical consequences of space travel as it becomes a (luxury) product accessible to more and more people.

Image | Serafin Reyna