Scientists Might Modify Your Cells Before You Go To Mars

NASA is expected to face challenges in sending the first crewed mission to Mars. Long-term space travel could expose the body to potentially harmful factors that could lead to problems during the mission. 

That is why scientists have been trying to find ways to better protect astronauts in space. And one team proposed a unique but potentially useful idea for a safe and “healthy” flight to Mars. 

They want to modify the human cells with DNA of tardigrades. These tiny micro-animals have been proven capable of surviving the most extreme conditions even in space. 

The Role Of Gene Editing 

Radiation exposure is one of the major concerns of scientists during space travel. Researchers working with NASA suggested that gene editing could help address this issue.  

Enhancing human cells may make astronauts more resilient to the effects of radiation. This then would allow them to live in space healthier even for longer durations. 

One potential way to modify cells is epigenetic engineering. It involves turning “on or off" the expression of specific genes to improve an individual’s capacity to survive in harsh environments. 

Another approach that may also work is combining the DNA of tardigrades with human cells. Researchers said the micro-animals would help make the human body become more resistant to the harmful effects of spaceflight, Live Science reported Saturday.

Chris Mason, a geneticist and associate professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell University in New York, noted the gene editing process would cause natural changes to the human physiology. He said it may occur after astronauts spend a number of years on Mars. 

Mason is the lead researcher of one of the teams NASA tasked to study twin astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly. The ongoing project started in 2015 and aims to understand how long-duration missions affects the human body in space.

Despite being promising, Mason noted combining tardigrade DNA and human cells would take years to decades of tests before NASA approves the proposal. He added the scientific community has yet to settle the debate over the controversial applications and effects of gene editing. 

"I don't have any plans of having engineered astronauts in the next one to two decades," Mason said. "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." 

Mars Scientists have been exploring Mars to find potential signs of life and to see if it could support new organisms in the future. Pixabay