Evolutionary Biologist: Humans who colonise Mars will mutate rapidly
Elon Musk and NASA both have ambitions to colonise Mars by 2030, but could such a landmark achievement come at a drastic cost?
This is the question raised by evolutionary biologist Scott Solomon regarding what the future for humans on the Red Planet would look like.
“I don’t think there has been nearly as much discussion about what would become of the people that are living in these colonies generations later,” he told Inverse.
Mr Solomon, from Rice University, has a number of predictions for what evolutionary changes the first Martian settlers will likely experience and believes it will only take two generations for these mutations to occur.
"Evolution is faster or slower depending on how much of an advantage there is to having a certain mutation," he said.
"If a mutation pops up for people living on Mars, and it gives them a 50-percent survival advantage, that’s a huge advantage, right? And that means that those individuals are going to be passing those genes on at a much higher rate than they otherwise would have."
The professor believes human may develop denser bones to overcome the effects of Mars’ gravity, but said the reduced force could make bones more brittle.
He added colonies will become more near-sighted, will develop a new skin tone to adjust to higher levels of radiation on the Red Planet and would have denser beds of capillaries to more effectively move blood.
The final and biggest mutation would see non-Earth dwelling humans lose their immune system as they are living in a sterile environment with no microorganisms present – a fact that could be deadly if they came in contact with humans from our planet carrying disease or illness.
The evolutionary biologist went as far to suggest humans sent to colonise Mars in the future should better prepare for life on the Martian planet by using the gene-editing technique CRISPR – a technology that allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify gene function.
“Why wait around for this mutation to occur if you can just go in and make them yourself,” he said. Mr Solomon also argued the need to consider the “founder effect” - the loss of genetic variation that occurs when a new population is established by a very small number of individuals from a larger population – when deciding the people to make up a new colony on Mars.
“If I were designing a human colony on Mars, I would want a population that would be hundreds of thousands of people, with representatives of every human population here on Earth,” he said.
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