Will Martian colonists need to be bioengineered?

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/08/08/will-martian-colonists-need-to.html

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One likely path for risk reduction in space does seem to involve biological engineering of adult would-be astronauts.

Is this even possible? I know it’s possible to insert certain genes into certain cells, but it’s a long way from there to modifying an adult’s phenotype.

Leaving out the obvious questions of human experimentation, germline engineering of babies opens up its own slew of ethical questions. What if you were told at age 18 that you had been engineered for a certain job, and it involves a one-way ticket to a desolate planet, and if you decline the offer you’re on the hook for 37 million dollars of research costs?

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But not the claws, I hope. :sunglasses:

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Anyone working on mind transferring technology? I want to get my mind transferred over to a younger body with upgraded strength and skin capable of photosynthesis.

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Ionizing radiation has sufficient energy to displace electrons from atoms producing charged particles which damage cellular DNA. A gene based “resistance” isn’t going to do squat to stop or hinder this process.

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Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Red Mars” posits a number of genetic alterations, including addition of crocodile DNA for lowering oxygen use and CO2 tolerance.

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First thing I thought of. Great book!

That would elevate the ordinarily somewhat tired “I didn’t ask to be born!” from ‘annoying cliche’ to ‘enough justifiable to cover several homicides’.

Fun problems of coerced specialization, though, would probably crop up even if the environment didn’t require modified humans. Given the cost of shipping, it’s not like the reaction to “actually, I’ve decided I don’t have the greatest enthusiasm for the mission anymore” would be terribly positive.

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Articles like this annoy me greatly. Our understanding of how the genome maps onto traits is severely deficient. We know just enough to know that there is no such thing as one gene “for” one trait - just about all traits are determined by multiple genes and quite a few genes are influential on multiple traits. Today’s genetic engineers, happily splicing genes into corn so they can manufacture insulin or whatever, are like toddlers playing with matches and gasoline. To even think about giving those toddlers permission to play around with the genome of human beings is an incredibly stupid idea.

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Unless you are severely departing from DNA-as-we-know-it you can’t stop radiation from damaging DNA; but how good you are at DNA repair varies widely by organism; and, if you are good, can confer substantial radiation resistance. Not because the DNA will be 100% intact 100% of the time, since the physics involved preclude that; but since temporary interruptions aren’t necessarily lethal if you can get them sorted out, or have redundancy, or both.

The various neat extremophiles aren’t notably better than anyone else at keeping their DNA intact when irradiated; just a lot better at patching things up and remaining operational, some even after a fairly alarming number of double-stranded breaks.

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Yes, they will.

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The press shots of the crew won’t be glamorous; but naked mole rats seem like the obvious source for useful traits when the mission is going to involve scrabbling out an oppressive, in some cases oxygen deficient, underground warren and living on tubers.

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It’s fun to muse about this stuff but does anyone seriously believe humans will be colonizing Mars anytime soon? It makes no kind of sense at all, including and especially the “lifeboat for the human species” argument.

Also, there’s a terrible movie on this very topic (only with Titan, not Mars):

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4986098/

tl;dw: this kind of engineering is for mad scientists and their naive pawns. Many things can and will go wrong! Scary stuff, kids!

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@AndreaJames The passive voice construction of your headline feels like it shifts attention precisely away from the ethical quagmire. Check it:

Will Terran human beings need to bioengineer Martian colonists?

The passive use of “need” in yer headline even implies that Martian colonists will have needs, and so will bioengineer themselves.

None of which is to say that yer contributions here are not rad or anything. :slight_smile:

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You have to wait until you are over 75 to join the old man’s war.

Incorrect, a gene could give better damage repair ability and/or give the ability to encode DNA in a more damage resistant format. You can get more from Google with “radiation resistance mechanisms”.


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I’d very happily settle for the younger body alone. Everything else would be nice but I’m not that greedy.:gorilla:

Unfortunately you’re not likely to get a longer lifespan in the tradeoff when you factor in the dangers of fighting for the Colonial Defense Forces.

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