Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Accelerating Space Life Sciences via Astronaut Omics Collection and Integrated Analyses

  Henry Cope (2019 cohort)


  • There are ambitious plans for human spaceflight on the horizon (e.g. return to the Moon, deep-space voyages to Mars, increased diversity via commercial ventures)
  • The spaceflight environment (e.g. altered gravity, cosmic radiation) disrupt Earth-based biology at molecular, physiological and psychological levels.
  • Health risks include, loss of performance due to degradation of bone and muscle, skin rashes, vision problems, and cognitive and psychiatric disorders.

  • On Earth ‘omics’, including genomics and transcriptomics, have emerged as powerful ‘Big data’ tools for elucidating the molecular patterns behind diseases, and in many cases for improving diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment capabilities.
  • These same approaches are now being adopted for space life sciences, and could lead to an improved understanding of the fundamental biology behind spaceflight adaptation, as well as better risk estimation and countermeasures - even individualised for each crew member (i.e. personalised medicine).

  • However, to keep up to speed with the ambitious human spaceflight plans set by space agencies and commercial entities, there is still a need to optimise the generation of new omics data, and the analysis of existing omics data, to extract as much value as possible from rare and expensive spaceflight missions and experiments.


  • Regarding data generation, I identified a scarcity of multi-omic data from astronauts as a gap, investigated the topic through discussions with the international space life sciences community, and drafted recommendations for policy in the international, European, and the UK national context. This included investigation into the ethics of personal data in the context of biological and health data collected from astronauts.
  • Regarding data analysis, I identified a need for strategies for maximising the utility of data, and led and contributed to analysis projects as a means of investigating this. In particular I focussed on transcriptomics, the most widespread omic type for space biology, and looked at integrated omics analyses, including pooling data from multiple missions, and analysing omics alongside phenotypic data to uncover mechanisms of spaceflight maladaptation
  • Such approaches could be adapted to other spaceflight datasets, and could help to inform analysis strategies for the proposed multi-omics data generated from astronauts. 


Dr. Daniel Wilkinson – University of Nottingham, Medicine

Dr. Michael Pound – University of Nottingham, Computer Science

Prof. Nathaniel Szewczyk – Ohio University, Biomedical Sciences