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Home Tech Astrobiologist argues that ‘gene-hacked’ humans should be created to settle on Mars

Astrobiologist argues that ‘gene-hacked’ humans should be created to settle on Mars

Future astronauts should have their DNA altered before making the treacherous journey to Mars, according to scientists.

That’s because spacefarers will likely need to become super-humans with radiation-resistant cells and extra-strong bones to survive the trip.

A number of space agencies and even private companies have promised to get the first man on the Red Planet within the next two decades.

NASA hopes to land astronauts on Mars in the 2030s, while billionaire Elon Musk’s rocket firm SpaceX wants to fire a million people there by 2050.

In a webinar last week, one prominent scientist argued settlers would need to be “gene-hacked” in order to live on Mars.

DNA editing “may need to come into play if people want to live and work and thrive and establish their family and stay on Mars,” Kennda Lynch, an astrobiologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, said on May 12 during an online chat held by the New York Academy of Sciences.

“That’s when these kinds of technologies might be critical or necessary,” she added.

Edits to astronauts’ DNA could help them endure the barrage of cosmic radiation and deadly environmental extremes at the planet’s surface.

The only other way to survive these extremes would be “terraforming”, a process in which scientists permanently change the climate of a planet.

“And how can we do that if we go and change the planet before we go and find out if life actually was living there?” Lynch said during the event.

NASA’s GM astronauts
Gene-editing astronauts before shipping them off to Mars is a controversial plot that scientists have pondered over for years.

NASA-backed researchers have already begun to investigate the possibility, according to a report from The Times.

One experiment at Cornell University in New York is looking at taking a gene from a tiny but hardy creature and inserting it into humans.

The tardigrade, also known as the water bear, is smaller than a grain of table salt with a remarkable resistance to cosmic radiation.

Scientists hope to take the gene that grants them this resistance and implant it into astronauts to help them survive the cancer-causing cosmic rays they’ll face during space missions.

“We’ll protect the astronauts physically, we’ll protect them pharmacologically,” Dr. Christopher Mason, lead scientists on the project, told The Times.

“But could we protect them genetically, with armor on the inside of their cells?”

The technology faces huge ethical and legal hurdles and remains decades away from ever being implemented.

It involves taking the super-gene in question and using a virus to permanently weave it into a person’s DNA.

Scientists still have no idea what the long-term effects such a change might have on someone’s mental and physical health.

More than 40 other genes that could benefit astronauts have been tracked down by Harvard University geneticist Professor George Church.

One, found in Tibetans, allows them to function at the top of mountains, where there is very little oxygen.

Transferred to astronauts, the trait could help them survive on a limited supply of the gas.

Other genes promise to boost memory and strength or make someone less sensitive to pain or anxiety.

One, known as the ABC11 gene, is linked with sweat that doesn’t smell as bad, potentially benefiting space explorers in cramped spaces.

Gene scientists Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, of the Francis Crick Institute in London, told The Times that the tardigrade DNA idea was “an interesting one, but I suspect rather premature.”

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