Space & Astronomy
Geneticists propose human/tardigrade hybrids
By T.K. Randall
November 11, 2019 · 9 comments
What happens when you cross a human with a tardigrade ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 Goldstein lab
Combining tardigrade DNA with our own could one day improve our ability to survive for long periods in space.
Human beings are not built for space - that much at least is obvious; not only are we woefully ill-equipped to survive being in a vacuum, but we are also highly susceptible to the deadly effects of radiation exposure - a problem that still exists even when safely cocooned inside a spacecraft.
But what if there was a way to modify ourselves to make us better suited for life in the final frontier ?
Geneticist Chris Mason is one of a growing body of scientists who have been investigating the effects of spaceflight on the human body and how we might overcome these challenges in the future.
He led one of the teams involved in NASA's twin astronaut experiment involving Mark and Scott Kelly; one of whom went up to the space station for a year while the other stayed on terra firma.
By studying the pair, it was possible to see how long-term space travel can impact the human body.
While medication, protective suits and other such things can certainly help to mitigate these effects, Mason and his colleagues have also been looking into more "out there" solutions.
One idea would be to merge our DNA with that of tardigrades - a type of microscopic creature that has a penchant for surviving in the harshest of conditions, even in the vacuum of space.
They are also particularly good at resisting the harmful effects of radiation exposure.
While it is a promising area of study however, it is unlikely to happen in practice anytime soon.
"I don't have any plans of having engineered astronauts in the next one to two decades," said Mason.
"If we have another 20 years of pure discovery and mapping and functional validation of what we think we know, maybe by 20 years from now, I'm hoping we could be at the stage where we would be able to say we can make a human that could be better surviving on Mars."
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