If humans want to colonize other planets, we will have to adapt our bodies to handle the harsh conditions we encounter in these strange new worlds.
A NASA scientist has already taken the first step on this path.
Chris Mason, a geneticist at Cornell University in New York who was the principal investigator on NASA’s “twin project” to measure the effect of space travel on the human body, has already experimentally altered the human genes for spaceflight.
As part of his research on “metagenomes that allow NASA astronauts to establish the molecular underpinnings and genetic defenses to enable human long-term space travel,” Professor Mason added DNA from nearly ineradicable tardigrades to create a superhuman hybrid cell.
He chose a specific gene, called Dsup, that protects DNA from the kind of damage astronauts suffer on long spaceflights.
“In my lab, we have now permanently integrated Dsup into a human genome and a new cell line in our lab,” he told New Scientist. “We can achieve up to an 80% reduction in DNA damage compared to unmodified cells when we fire intense radiation at those cells.”
Professor Mason firmly believes that humanity has a responsibility to adapt, through genetic modification if necessary, to ensure the survival of our species.
In his new book The Next 500 Years, he writes: “Engineering is humanity’s innate duty, and essential to the survival of life.
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He goes on to describe how he describes how gene-editing tools like CRISPR could help future astronauts survive the long-term effects of cosmic radiation in deep space and allow colonists to thrive on the Moon, Mars, and possibly. The largest planet Saturn. Titan Moon.
And he warns that experimenting with the human genome is not without risks: “Every time you add a gene to an existing biological system, you can bring about unexpected changes.
We can see mutations or other changes arise in the regulation of gene expression. There may also be a risk of cancer. Therefore, you must have proper supervision over all this type of work. “
But he confidently predicts that within the next 10 to 20 years, these problems will be overcome, even one day, allowing astronauts to “turn on” additional protective genes when needed and turn them off when their mission is complete.
He adds that genetic modification is not just for humans. He predicts that the first step in making Mars habitable for settlers will be to introduce genetically modified bacteria into the soil to alter the planet’s atmosphere.
According to Professor Mason, genetically modified animals could one day participate in a space mission as a food source, or even just as pets.