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Apr 29, 2020

Deep-space travel, colonization may rely on genetically engineered life forms

Posted by in categories: alien life, genetics, sustainability

On Earth, there are organisms that resist radiation, heat, cold, and drying, even to the point of being able to live in the space vacuum.


Genetic biotechnology is usually discussed in the context of current and emerging applications here on Earth, and rightly so, since we still live exclusively in our planetary cradle. But as humanity looks outward, we ponder what kind of life we ought to take with us to support outposts and eventually colonies off the Earth.

While the International Space Station (ISS) and the various spacecraft that ferry astronauts on short bouts through space depend on consumables brought up from Earth to maintain life support, this approach will not be practical for extensive lunar missions, much less long term occupation of more distant sites. If we’re to build permanent bases, and eventually colonies, on the Moon, Mars, asteroids, moons of outer planets or in free space, we’ll need recycling life support systems. This means air, water, and food replenished through microorganisms and plants, and it’s not a new idea.

Space exploration enthusiasts have been talking about it for decades, and it’s the most obvious application of microorganisms and plants transplanted from Earth. What is new, however, is the prospect of a comprehensive use of synthetic biology for a wide range of off-Earth outpost and colonization applications.

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