The geneticist Chris Mason has just published a book in which he explains the modifications that have to be in our DNA to be able to adapt to living on another planet
As adaptable as human beings are, our bodies suffer when we leave the living conditions on Earth.
Chris Mason is Associate Professor of Physiology, Biophysics, and Computational Genomics at Weill Cornell Medical College.
He led one of 10 teams of researchers chosen by NASA to compare the genetic and physiological changes between astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a year on the International Space Station, and his twin brother, Mark Kelly, who spent that time here at the Land.
Mason also works with NASA to design the metagenome for life in space and collaborates on the 500 Year Plan, a plan to ensure the long-term survival of Earth’s inhabitants.
His latest book is called ‘The Next 500 years: Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds’ , something like ‘The next 500 years: engineering life to reach new worlds’.
“The premise of the book is that I want to expose what I believe and hope will happen in the next 500 years,” says Mason in an interview for RT.
“This includes not only the technology behind how we could get to another planet and survive there, but also the moral argument for why we have to go.”
As for the latter, Mason believes that estimates that Earth has 4.7 billion years left before becoming uninhabitable are overly optimistic.
For the researcher, if another extinction event does not happen before, such as the impact with an asteroid, we have at most 1,000 million years left on this planet.
“Researching in the book, I saw that within 1 billion years the luminosity of the Sun will increase enough to probably start boiling the oceans.”
“Maybe we can live underground for a while,” Mason also says that he believes that we have a genetic duty to protect our species and look for other planets that allow us to move forward.
The genetic changes that will allow us to live on Mars
For Mason, the first stop on that interstellar journey has to be Mars. “The Earth is fabulous, we only know that it has a finite time,” says the researcher.
“Mars is not plan B, it is plan A. Whatever happens, at some point, we have to get out of the solar system. We have to think about where we can start that process.
But to get to Mars we still have technological and biological challenges to solve. The genetic study in which Mason participated and which had the Kelly brothers as protagonists showed that the human body suffers when it spends a lot of time in space.
Scott, who spent 12 months on the International Space Station, experienced loss of muscle mass, including that of his heart, alterations in his DNA, decalcification of bones and alterations in his immune system compared to his brother who stayed here on Earth.
The body is very adaptable. When you come back from space, it can go back to normal for the most part. But it is not pleasant, it is very hard on the body, “says Mason.
“If you look at the molecular signatures of spaceflight, they look a lot like a very bad cold or even a serious injury. It is clear that the immune system is on high alert. He is trying to adapt to a very different and unusual environment. “
Even so, Mason thinks that although the body has not been designed to live on another planet, it can adapt to the high radiation and lack of resources.
For the researcher, the changes necessary for this adaptation are based on science and technology that already exist today. A fundamental tool for this will be gene therapy that allows us to activate and deactivate parts of our DNA.
“We still have the gene to make our own vitamin C – it’s in our DNA, just in a broken form,” Mason explains.
For the researcher, this power to manage cells would allow us to live on the planet of our choice. Mason calls this cellular and planetary freedom and, apart from the modification of already developed bodies, it can be applied to the gestation of fetuses in artificial wombs that allow them more chances of surviving on another planet.
This technology also already exists and recently we have seen it applied to the development of a sheep from the embryo itself to birth.
Although Mason’s plan is 500 years away, the researcher believes that it will not take long before we have to implement it. Just a couple of decades.
The time that, according to him, it will take us to be ready to colonize Mars. “It is assumed that the first humans will be on Mars in 2035. That is not that far,” says the researcher.
“In 20 years, we will have to ask ourselves the following question: what happens if someone goes and stays on Mars for five years or more?”
“It will probably be someone who is 10 years old today who will be selected in 20 or 30 years to go on some of these really difficult missions.”