Science Questions

Does high speed travel change human DNA?

Mon, 14th May 2012

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Question

Jabu Ndlovu asked:

My question is on high speed travel, via motor vehicles and aeroplanes. How does this affect the human gene? I want to believe it does in a way but I lack the scientific knowledge to further investigate it further.

 

Regards

 

Jabu

Answer

Answered by Marianne Baker, Barts Cancer Institute.

There’s probably no effects on DNA from high-speed travel itself, but there is a known effect on DNA from cosmic radiation at high altitudes - one long-haul flight is roughly the equivalent radiation exposure of a couple of chest X-rays. So if you spend a lot of time at high-altitude, rather than high speed, you’d be increasing the chances of damaging your DNA, and therefore slightly increasing your cancer risk.

As SeanB points out on the Naked Scientists forum, if high-speed travel had an effect it would have been seen already - astronauts have to go at 12km per second to obtain enough energy to reach earth orbit as well, and, as they are probably the most studied people around, any effects would have been seen since the 1960's when the first people orbited the earth.

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If it had an effect it would have been seen already, as the earth is moving around the sun at quite a rate, whilst the entire solar system is moving at around 2 kilometers per second in orbit around the galaxy. You just do not notice it as everything is moving at the same rate. Astronauts have to go at 12km per second to obtain enough energy to reach earth orbit as well, and, as they are probably the most studied people around, any effects would have been seen since the 1960's when the first people orbited the earth. SeanB, Fri, 16th Sep 2011

Jabu Ndlovu asked the Naked Scientists: My question is on high speed travel, via motor vehicles and aeroplanes. How does this affect the human gene? I want to believe it does in a way but I lack the scientific knowledge to further investigate it further. Regards Jabu What do you think? Jabu Ndlovu , Fri, 16th Sep 2011

If high speed travel affected DNA then you could look at that change and deduce that you were moving. That's at odds with relativity. Bored chemist, Sat, 17th Sep 2011

I know it seems odd, but you are already travelling at relativistic speeds, with respect some cosmic particles, with respect far galaxies, with respect to everything that moves at relativistic speeds from you; you can't say it's that distant galaxy which is moving fast away, it could be you, instead. But actually it's none: you can only say that you are moving *with respect to something*, and not that you are moving in absolute sense. lightarrow, Sat, 17th Sep 2011

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