Spaceflight consistently affects the gut | 4/11/2019 | Staff
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The Northwestern researchers developed a novel analytical tool to compare microbiome data from mice as far back as 2011. Called STARMAPS (Similarity Test for Accordant and Reproducible Microbiome Abundance Patterns), the tool indicates that spaceflight causes a specific, consistent change on the abundance, ratios and diversity of bacteria in the gut.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the team also used STARMAPS to compare spaceflight data to data collected from Earth-based studies on the effects of radiation on the gut. They effectively ruled out space radiation as the cause of changes in the microbiome during spaceflight.

Radiation - Effect - Gut - Microbiome - Northwestern

"Radiation definitely has an effect on the gut microbiome," said Northwestern's Martha Vitaterna, who led the study. "But those effects do not look like what we saw in spaceflight."

The study published last week in the journal Microbiome. Vitaterna is a research professor in neurobiology at Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Peng Jiang, research assistant professor in neurobiology at Weinberg, was the paper's first author.

Vitaterna - Collaborator - Fred - W - Turek

Vitaterna and longtime collaborator Fred W. Turek, also from Northwestern, led the microbiome section of NASA's Twin Study, which compared physiological changes in astronaut Scott Kelly to his Earth-bound twin Mark. Although the Turek and Vitaterna found that a year in space affected astronaut Scott Kelly's gut microbiome, it was not enough data to draw general conclusions about the effects of spaceflight on the human body.

"If we are going to send humans to Mars or on long missions to the moon, it is essential to understand the effects of long-term exposure of the space environment on us—and on the trillions of bacteria traveling with us," said Turek, the Charles and Emma Morrison Professor of Neurobiology in Weinberg, who co-authored the paper. "While we have studied the effects of a year in space on Scott Kelly's microbiota, we need to use mice in larger numbers...
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