Colonizing Mars could spark new kind of super human species – AOL

The human species has significantly evolved during the last two centuries. Our population on Earth has exploded from about one billion to over seven billion people. And we’ve even changed physically as more humans are taller now than ever before.

But despite all of the natural changes the human species has undergone here on earth, a bigger change looms –- one that’s light years away, literally.

Some of the biggest names in science and technology have been calling for the colonization of Mars, including visionaries like SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and physicist Stephen Hawking. They agree that populating other planets could ensure the survival of the human race when the Earth is rendered uninhabitable by a disaster.

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In an effort to preserve humankind, scientists and engineers are rapidly developing the technology necessary for interplanetary travel to Mars. But that very journey to Mars, scientists say, would likely permanently change human biology, thus, creating a new species.

“As soon as you get into space, we’ve seen thousands of genes changing their structure. What we’ve seen now in the last couple years of study is that some of these genes return to their normal state when they return back to Earth, but there are still hundreds that are perturbed,” Christopher Maison, an Associate Professor of Computational Genomics in Computational Biomedicine at Cornell University, said Thursday while speaking at the “Evolution Beyond Earth” program held at New York University.

“What people have noticed is actually within minutes of going into space you start to experience lots of changes,” Ting Wu, molecular biologist and Genetics Professor at Harvard Medical School, who was also sitting alongside Maison on the panel, added in an interview with AOL News. A lot these changes occur on account of the human’s physiological genetic response to space travel, Wu said, as the human body acclimates to the new environment.

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Astronauts have faced a range of health impacts during extend periods of time in space, including bone loss, muscle atrophy, kidney stones, and eye problems. And, interestingly enough, when astronauts return to Earth, even when earthly environmental factors force them to then re-acclimate to their birth planet, they still never completely return to their original state prior to entering space.

But the story will change for those who don’t return to Earth, more notably, the first group of humans that will colonize Mars.

“Within a few generations you would probably have a more extensive version of what humans would go through in the space station,” Wu said, adding that by the second or third generation, we will begin to see alterations in genes as a result of these effects.

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NEW YORK, USA – UNDATED: Large color photograph, 20 by 16 inches, of a nearly nose-on view of the Gemini 7 spacecraft as seen and photographed by Tom Stafford onboard Gemini 6. Part of Gemini 6 is seen in the foreground. INSCRIBED AND SIGNED: ‘Gemini 6 & 7, Tom Stafford, Plt, 15 Dec 1965’ and additionally signed by WALLY SCHIRRA with ‘CDR.’ Estimate: $1,000 – 1,500. When Bonhams had their first space sale last year it became the highest-grossing American space history auction ever. On 13th April 2010 Bonhams will be selling more incredible space lots. Timed to coincide with the anniversary of Apollo 13, the sale comprises almost 300 lots including flight plan sheets, emblems, medallions, hardware, models, lunar surface equipment, charts and photographs. Many items come directly from astronauts’ own collections. (Photo by Bonhams / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
UNITED STATES – MAY 13: Pioneer 11, launched by NASA on 6th April 1973, returned the first close-up pictures of the ringed planet Saturn. The results, although visually spectacular, were rather disappointing from a scientific point of view. The second largest planet in the Solar System, Saturn was first observed through a telescope by Galileo in 1610, but its rings were not identified until 1659, by Christiaan Huygens. It is a gas giant similar in atmospheric composition to Jupiter, and rotates very quickly, causing it to appear oblate (flattened at the poles). The rings are composed of ice and ice-coated dust and rock. Their origin and formation are not precisely understood, but it seems that tidal effects caused by some of Saturn�s moons play a role in maintaining their structure. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

“There is evidence now that an individual organism will be able to pick up on a response or a trait developed by its parent that will be inheritable for generations until the stimulus from which it was created disappears,” Wu said.

And the idea of an organism passing down characteristics it has acquired in its lifetime to its offspring — or Lamarckism — has scientists speculating colonists on Mars could evolve into a kind of species after years of isolation on the red planet — where sunlight and gravity are much weaker than on Earth and mutation-causing radiation is more intense, which may result in the bodies of Mars colonists to change entirely.

But, speciation is a long-term process that typically requires reproductive isolation for billions of years, Wu said. “I believe the evolution of a new species on another planet that would be broad enough and extensive to generate a group of people that represents a new species would take a lot longer than a couple generations.”