Scientists have explained that in order for humans to survive in Mars colonies, they might need to genetically alter their DNA. One way to do this is by combining the genes of the microorganism tardigrade with the cells of humans.

With NASA currently working on a crewed mission to Mars, scientists have been discussing the possibility of establishing human outposts on the Red Planet. One of the factors that could prevent this from happening is the hostile environmental condition of Mars.

Tardigrade
Tardigrade Wikipedia / Creative commons

Genetic Engineering For Space Colonization

For some scientists, a possible way that could allow humans to survive on Mars is by adapting to the planet on a genetic level. During a recent webinar called "Alienating Mars: Challenges of Space Colonization," different scientists presented their ideas regarding the factors that would make living on Mars possible. Some of them emphasized that in order to adapt to the Red Planet, humans might need to alter certain genetic features.

"[Genetic engineering] may need to come into play if people want to live and work and thrive and establish their family, and stay on Mars," astrobiologist Kennada Lynch said during the webinar according to Space.com.

Experiments With Tardigrade Genes

Although the idea of genetic engineering for space colonization may seem a bit far-fetched, scientists have already started the initial steps towards achieving this goal. Geneticist Christopher Mason of the Weill Cornell Medicine revealed during the webinar that scientists have already started experimenting with the genes of tardigrades, the microscopic organisms that can survive in space.

In laboratory experiments, the genes from the microorganisms were injected into human cells. According to Mason, the engineered human cells demonstrated greater resistance to radiation than their unaltered counterparts.

Mars colony
Team SEArch /Apis Cor’s 3D modeled design

Surviving Space With Tardigrade Traits

As noted by Mason, harnessing the traits of tardigrades could provide astronauts and future Mars colonists with a new layer of protection. Through genetic engineering, they could gain a natural shield against radiation from space.

"If we ever get there, those are the cases where the human body would be almost completely fried by the amount of radiation," the scientist stated. "There, it would be certain death unless you did something, including every kind of shielding you could possibly provide."