Science Questions

Are there genes that make people better suited to become astronauts?

Thu, 14th Jun 2012

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Question

@ironmunya, via twitter asked:

Are there genes that make pple better suited to become astronauts?, disregarding intelligence. i.e ability to adapt to 0 weight environments?

Answer

Answered by Dr Frank Jiggins, Dept of Genetics, Cambridge University.

Frank - Certainly, astronauts suffer from all sorts of health problems and most medical conditions have some genetic component, so there's genetic variation amongst individuals as to how likely they are to develop these conditions. So at least in theory, you should be able to predict which individuals are likely to develop these conditions and they'd make the better astronauts. So for example, one of the problems is the effects of low gravity which can result in muscle wasting and reduced bone density, and we know from people on Earth that there's a lot of genetic variation in these traits. About 20 genetic variants have been identified that affect bone density. So you could maybe pick individuals which had the better genetic variants and maybe they'd be less likely to develop these conditions.

Another problem that an astronaut might develop is space adaptation syndrome which is a type of motion sickness. This generally only affects about half of astronauts. So itís possible that maybe there's a genetic component there and if we could identify it, we might be able to predict those astronauts which would develop this problem.

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@ironmunya, via twitter asked the Naked Scientists: Are there genes that make pple better suited to become astronauts?, disregarding intelligence. i.e ability to adapt to 0 weight environments? What do you think? @ironmunya, via twitter, Mon, 11th Oct 2010

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