Full findings from NASA ‘Twins Study’ raise more questions about long stints in space

Full findings from NASA ‘Twins Study’ raise more questions about long stints in space

7:00am, 12th April, 2019
The genetic and health profiles of Mark Kelly and Scott Kelly were compared during a “Twins Study” focusing on the effects of long-term spaceflight. (NASA Photo) Ten research teams today shared comprehensive scientific results from an unprecedented experiment to gauge the health differences that developed between an astronaut who spent nearly a year in space and his identical twin down on Earth. The study, , traces the results of DNA tests and analyses of biological samples from Scott Kelly, who took on the 340-day mission on the International Space Station in 2015-2016; and from his brother Mark Kelly, a former astronaut who underwent parallel tests on Earth. Many of the findings have been , but today’s open-access research paper and supporting materials provided broader context for the — and pointed to concerns that are likely to be addressed in future space experiments. Previous reports have noted that Scott Kelly experienced changes in his medical condition during his long stint in space, but that most of those changes were reversed after his return. For example, the makeup of Scott’s gut microbiome shifted, perhaps due to a change in diet, and then shifted back after his flight. Patterns of gene expression also changed, particularly in genetic regions associated with the immune system and DNA repair. More than 90 percent of those changes reversed themselves, but some of the changes persisted six months after Scott’s landing. (, only the patterns of which genes were switched on or off.) The detailed findings highlight some concerns about long-lasting effects of long-term spaceflight. Scott’s exposure to radiation in space, for example, led to minor mutations in his chromosomes. “Some of the chromosome rearrangements that we saw, particularly inversions, were persistent,” Susan Bailey, a radiation biologist at Colorado State University, acknowledged during a teleconference. Another genetic change had to do with the length of Scott’s telomeres — that is, the molecular end caps on his chromosomes. They’ve been compared to the protective ends on shoelaces, and they tend to get shorter as a person ages. Geneticists were intrigued to find that Scott’s telomeres actually lengthened during his spaceflight, but became shorter when he was back on Earth. “When we looked at individual telomere length and distributions, he did have many more short telomeres after flight than he did before,” Bailey said. “So in that sense, or from the perspective of aging and health risks, that could be where he might be at increased risk for … cardiovascular disease, for example, or some types of cancer.” The shape of Scott’s eyeballs changed in weightlessness, leading to the types of vision problems that have been found among male astronauts (but not so much among female astronauts). Scott also registered a slight loss in cognitive abilities when he returned to Earth, although it’s not clear whether that’s related to long-term spaceflight. The researchers suspected that it’s more likely the result of the added stress he experienced as he readjusted to earthly routines. The now-retired astronaut has acknowledged that it took at least six months for him to readjust fully. The researchers cautioned against reading too much into their study. “We’re only studying an n of one — in other words, there’s just one twin pair here — and we’re not corroborating the results in this study by looking at other astronauts,” said Andy Feinberg, director of the Center for Epigenetics at Johns Hopkins University and one of the lead investigators on the Twins Study. Nevertheless, the findings point to issues that will have to be resolved as NASA plans for trips beyond Earth orbit, to the moon, Mars and beyond. “We’re looking forward to these results serving as a guide and foundation for future studies and things we need to be aware of and look at in astronauts in upcoming longer-duration missions [going] deeper and deeper in space,” Bailey said. In a , the University of Darmstadt’s Markus Löbrich and the University of Sussex’s Penny Jeggo said studying the health impacts of long-term spaceflight, particularly exposure to space radiation, should be a high priority. The newly published study “represents more than one small step for mankind in this endeavor,” they wrote. Francine Garrett-Bakelman of the University of Virginia School of Medicine is the lead author of the study published in Science, More than 80 other researchers are co-authors.
Global smartphone growth stalled in Q4, up just 1.2% for the full year: Gartner

Global smartphone growth stalled in Q4, up just 1.2% for the full year: Gartner

3:32am, 21st February, 2019
smartphone marketshare data for the just gone holiday quarter highlights the challenge for device makers going into the which kicks off in Barcelona next week: The analyst’s data shows global smartphone sales stalled in Q4 2018, with growth of just 0.1 per cent over 2017’s holiday quarter, and 408.4 million units shipped. tl;dr: high end handset buyers decided not to bother upgrading their shiny slabs of touch-sensitive glass. Gartner says recorded its worst quarterly decline (11.8 per cent) since Q1 2016, though the iPhone maker retained its second place position with 15.8 per cent marketshare behind market leader Samsung (17.3 per cent). Last month the company to expect reduced revenue for its fiscal Q1 — and went on to report year over year. The South Korean mobile maker also lost share year over year (declining around 5 per cent), with Gartner noting that high end devices such as the , and struggled to drive growth, even as Chinese rivals ate into its mid-tier share. Huawei was one of the rivals causing a headache for Samsung. It bucked the declining share trend of major vendors to close the gap on Apple from its third placed slot — selling more than 60 million smartphones in the holiday quarter and expanding its share from 10.8 per cent in Q4 2017 to 14.8 per cent. Gartner has dubbed 2018 “the year of Huawei”, saying it achieved the top growth of the top five global smartphone vendors and grew throughout the year. This growth was not just in Huawei “strongholds” of China and Europe but also in Asia/Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East, via continued investment in those regions, the analyst noted. While its expanded mid-tier Honor series helped the company exploit growth opportunities in the second half of the year “especially in emerging markets”. By contrast Apple’s double-digit decline made it the worst performer of the holiday quarter among the top five global smartphone vendors, with Gartner saying iPhone demand weakened in most regions, except North America and mature Asia/Pacific. It said iPhone sales declined most in Greater China, where it found Apple’s market share dropped to 8.8 percent in Q4 (down from 14.6 percent in the corresponding quarter of 2017). For 2018 as a whole iPhone sales were down 2.7 percent, to just over 209 million units, it added. “Apple has to deal not only with buyers delaying upgrades as they wait for more innovative smartphones. It also continues to face compelling high-price and midprice smartphone alternatives from Chinese vendors. Both these challenges limit Apple’s unit sales growth prospects,” said Gartner’s Anshul Gupta, senior research director, in a statement. “Demand for entry-level and midprice smartphones remained strong across markets, but demand for high-end smartphones continued to slow in the fourth quarter of 2018. Slowing incremental innovation at the high end, coupled with price increases, deterred replacement decisions for high-end smartphones,” he added. Further down the smartphone leaderboard, Chinese OEM, Oppo, grew its global smartphone market share in Q4 to bump Chinese upstart, and bag fourth place — taking 7.7 per cent vs Xiaomi’s 6.8 per cent for the holiday quarter. The latter had a generally flat Q4, with just a slight decline in units shipped, according to Gartner’s data — underlining Xiaomi’s motivations for . Because, well, with eye-catching innovation stalled among the usual suspects (who’re nontheless raising high end handset prices), there’s at least an opportunity for buccaneering underdogs to smash through, grab attention and poach bored consumers. Or that’s the theory. Consumer interest in ‘foldables’ very much remains to be tested. In 2018 as a whole, the analyst says global sales of smartphones to end users grew by 1.2 percent year over year, with 1.6 billion units shipped. The worst declines of the year were in North America, mature Asia/Pacific and Greater China (6.8 percent, 3.4 percent and 3.0 percent, respectively), it added. “In mature markets, demand for smartphones largely relies on the appeal of flagship smartphones from the top three brands — Samsung, Apple and Huawei — and two of them recorded declines in 2018,” noted Gupta. Overall, smartphone market leader Samsung took 19.0 percent marketshare in 2018, down from 20.9 per cent in 2017; second placed Apple took 13.4 per cent (down from 14.0 per cent in 2017); third placed Huawei took 13.0 per cent (up from 9.8 per cent the year before); while Xiaomi, in fourth, took a 7.9 per cent share (up from 5.8 per cent); and Oppo came in fifth with 7.6 per cent (up from 7.3 per cent).