Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Good Mix-Genetic Engineering And Space Travel

A Good Mix: Genetic Engineering and Space Exploration

Adjust text size:
November 2nd, 2010, 07:35 GMT| By Tudor Vieru

Flying people to the Moon, Mars and beyond may become a lot easier in the near future, if only agencies such as NASA would rely more on genetic engineering to meet this objective.

In fact, according to a leading expert in the field, manned space exploration could accelerate in leaps and bounds, and reach destinations that are currently thought of as impossible to get to.

More genetic screening and genetic engineering are now being touted as fail-safe mechanisms of improving humankind's chances of reaching the stars. The announcement was made in Moffett Field, California, on October 30.

The speaker was expert J. Craig Venter, a pioneer in genomics studies, and the biologist who founded the J. Craig Venter Institute. The research organization created the first synthetic organism a few months ago.

One of Venter's main ideas was that screening for individuals that may be better genetically equipped to survive a mission to space would make the entire selection process cheaper and easier, and also help improve the efficiency of future missions.

“I think this could change the shape of what NASA does, if you make the commitment to do it,” explained the researcher at the conference, quoted by Space.

Venter was also in charge of an international team of scientists, that decoded the entire human genome some 10 years ago, Space reports. The meeting took place at the NASA Ames Research Center.

There were in fact two meetings held at the Center, one sponsored by NASA and dealing with synthetic biology, and the other by the Space Studies Institute, which was called Space Manufacturing 14: Critical Technologies for Space Settlement.

One of the most interesting ideas that the expert showcased was that of synthetic astronauts, people whose genomes would be tinkered with so that they express a host of abilities rarely found in other individuals.

The issue here is not as much as giving an individual an ability, but collecting a large number of traits, and putting them all together in a man or woman.

Venter explains that, for instance, future astronauts could be engineered to have better gut flora, less harmful bacteria in sweat, or produce no sweat at all. Their DNA could also be tweaked so that it can repair itself after being exposed to cosmic radiation.

But even the biologist admits that the work on this is still in its earliest stages. A few more years will have to pass before experts can consider there ideas, and weigh their moral and ethical implications.

“I can't think of an organization that could benefit from synthetic genomics more than NASA,” Venter concluded in his speech.

Follow the editor on Twitter @tudorvieru

No comments:

Post a Comment