Turns out there is a surprising lack of information on the possible evolutionary trajectories of humanity once we leave earth. I know, how could anthropologists, evolutionary biologists and others neglect this. But one researcher has some theories, and while they appear sound, they aren’t great news for the unity of the human race.
The fun part
April 21, 2087
Korolev Crater, Mars
You can’t be here Alan, you know my parents have said I can’t see you
I know Faye, but I can’t do this anymore. I tried going back to Earth, but the women there don’t compare to you.
That’s a tad trite Alan…you know I appreciate the sentiment, but no need to go over the top like that.
Ok fair, but Faye, I’m serious, I know there are difficulties with us being together, but it is what I want. And I think you do too.
Of course I do Alan, but I also want to have a family. How can we do that? How are we supposed to have children? I’m third generation Martian, and you are Canadian…like real Canadian.
I’m sure we can figure something out. Maybe in-vitro, or something else like that. I mean shit it is almost 2090, someone has to have a solution for this problem. We aren’t the only ones like this.
Maybe not Alan, but you’ve seen how my family lives here. We are a tad on the…radical side…we don’t even use tech that originated on Earth unless it is derived from the first settlement. So I’m sure there is someone on Earth who has solved this, or maybe even someone on Luna, or one of stations at the Lagrange points. But we don’t have it here. There hasn’t been a need. We have enough genetic stock, so no one has cared.
Don’t do this to me Faye…I really do think we are meant to be.
We might be Alan…but even things that are meant to be aren’t. We look like we are one of those things.
the real deal
If that sounded a bit like Romeo and Juliet on Mars, then you may have paid too much attention in your literature class. Joking aside, there is a grain of truth to the idea that two families could forbid marriage (and procreating) between themselves for no other reason than because of where they were born.
Rice University professor Scott Solomon is someone looking at the science side of that…namely what’s going to happen to the first Martian settlers and, more interestingly, their babies.
A BREED APART
Solomon outlined a number of ways — many of them covered in his Ted Talk — about how humans could change once we successfully colonize Mars
- Humans may develop denser bones to overcome the effects of Mars’ gravity, which is just a third of Earth’s. The reduced force could make bones more brittle, which could lead to complications like fractured pelvises during childbirth.
- The inhabitants of smaller spaces may become more near-sighted, as they no longer need to see as far as they would on Earth. Solomon cites cavefish in deep trenches that have gone blind with no need for vision, and studies that show children who spend more time indoors are likely to become more near-sighted.
- Mars inhabitants may develop a new skin tone to adjust to the higher levels of radiation. Humans use melanin to fight against ultraviolet rays, while other species use carotenoids. Mars residents may some day have to develop another pigment entirely to fight off radiation.
- Residents may perhaps learn to use oxygen more efficiently. A similar change has been observed on the Tibetan plateau, where oxygen is 40 percent lower than it is at sea level. To adjust, Tibetans have denser beds of capillaries to more efficiently move blood, and have the ability to dilate their vessels to get more oxygen to the muscles.
- One change that could occur relatively fast is that non-Earth dwelling humans may quickly lose their immune system. In a sterile environment with no microorganisms present, the residents may have no need for a body capable of fighting germs. But this may not be such a bad thing, Solomon suggests it could be an opportunity to eradicate diseases, treating the ship flying to Mars as a sort of quarantine zone and ensuring the new inhabitants can lead healthier lives.
But evolution takes forever right?
On earth the rate of human evolution is fairly slow with babies born with 20-120 new genetic mutations. But throughout history evolution is faster or slower depending on how much of an advantage certain mutations afford their owners in making babies. If a mutation gives a person living on Mars a 50-percent survival advantage that means that those individuals are going to be passing those genes on at a much higher rate than their neighbors otherwise will.
On Mars (due to the increased radiation and generally harsh environment) Solomon theorizes the evolution rate will increase a dramatically. So instead of waiting thousands of years to witness minuscule changes, Solomon instead believes that humans going to Mars could be on the verge of an evolutionary roller-coaster. He suggests that some of the changes listed above could occur withing the first few generations, irrevocably splitting the human race.
This roller-coaster, especially if it includes the end of a functional immune system, sex between Martian humans and Earthlings would be lethal. That could impose an artificial limit on how the two populations will be able to interact and co-mingle. The inability to form families or send offspring back and forth between the two planets could drive the two groups even further apart.
But what about other space settlements?
While Solomon almost exclusively focuses on Martian settlements, many of his postulations would hold for orbital or lunar settlements. Their low gravity, small spaces, high radiation and sterile environments would combine to yield many similar results.
Lets take a look at more about mining in space, including some of the legal issues that could run into. Until then, be sure to go back and check out some of my older medical posts like blood getting out of hand in zero-g, surgery being hard, and Earth taking revenge on us when we return from being away. If there is a topic you are interested in, be sure to let me know below.