NASA’s twin study explores the ground truth of metabolites


According to the metabolomics data, the body is percolating some expressive information about our everyday life.  Tejaswini Mishra, Ph.D. Postdoctoral fellow from Stanford University School of Medicine, said,  "Metabolomics measures small molecules called metabolites that reflect the physiology of the body, and can reveal specific details about you. Researchers can see specific metabolites — such as caffeine — in your blood, and form hypotheses about your diet, lifestyle or environment.

For example, if we detected caffeine in your blood, it is likely that you had coffee before giving blood. With more data, we could also track your coffee-drinking habits, and perhaps even learn something about what type of coffee you drink! We might also see pesticides or derivatives of medications in the data, from which one could hypothesize whether a person gardens or farms, or lives in proximity to one, and which medications they might be on."

Mishra combined multi-omics data for NASA's Twins Study. She compared all the metabolites in retired twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly. The number of metabolites of Scott increase in levels while he went to space and certain metabolites remained increased when he returned to the Earth, she observed. By combining data from other Twins Study investigations, the researchers could determine the cause of this elevation, she said.      

Mishra added, "It is incredible and powerful to have such rich data, but it also is a little scary. It underscores the importance of securing your data, who you share it with, how you store it and protect it."

The researchers were examining and securing an unprecedented amount of information by studying the twins. Maximum studies focus on two or three types of data while the current study was one of the few studies that combined various types of data.

The scientists compared identical genomes from twins and focused on other specific molecular changes, such as metabolomics changes involving the end products of various biological pathways and processes.

Mishra supported the scientists to create a timeline and identify patterns and correlations by integrating data from metabolites, DNA, RNA, proteins, microbes, physiological and neurobehavioral systems, as well as food and exercise logs.

Mishra together with the researchers aimed to recognize health-related molecular effects of spaceflight and to protect astronauts on future missions.