Genetically modifying human cells with DNA from a TARDIGRADE could help astronauts withstand the deadly effects of long-distance space travel
- Tardigrades have a protein that protects them from radiation, known as Dsup
- A geneticist wants to combine the creatures DNA with human cells
- Suggests it will enable astronauts to endure deadly effects of spaceflight
Tardigrades can survive the vacuum of space, zero temperatures and radiation – and their DNA may be the missing link to long-distance space travel.
Experts believe the creature’s DNA could be used to genetically modify humans, allowing them to withstand the deadly effects of spaceflight, specifically radiation.
The microscopic vertebrate has a nuclear protein that protects it from radiation and scientists are currently working ways to combine it with human cells.
Tardigrades, also known as water bears, have survived conditions that would kill almost any other organism.
Now, Chris Mason, a geneticist and associate professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell University in New York, believes its DNA is what could get humans to Mars.
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Tardigrades can survive the vacuum of space, zero temperatures and radiation – and their DNA may be the missing link to long-distance space travel. Experts believe its DNA could be used to genetically modify humans, allowing them to withstand the effects of spaceflight
One of the major issues researchers focus on is radiation, as astronauts could be bombarded with 700 times the radiation experienced on Earth.
Mason has proposed multiple approaches on how genetically engineering a person will be key for successful space missions to Mars and other distant worlds.
The first would be to design a process that lets scientists ‘turn on or off’ specific gene expressions.
The researchers currently working on this innovation are ‘also exploring how to combine the DNA of other species, namely tardigrades, with human cells to make them more resistant to the harmful effects of spaceflight, like radiation’, Space.com explained.
Researcher exploring how to combine the DNA of other species, namely tardigrades, with human cells to make them more resistant to the harmful effects of spaceflight, like radiation’. The breakthrough could help humans get to Mars
Mason also noted, the technology could be used to ‘combat the effects of radiation on healthy cells during cancer treatments on Earth’.
‘I don’t have any plans of having engineered astronauts in the next one to two decades,’ Mason told Space.com
‘If we have another 20 years of pure discovery and mapping and functional validation of what we think we know, maybe by 20 years from now, I’m hoping we could be at the stage where we would be able to say we can make a human that could be better surviving on Mars.’
Although genetically engineered humans has had its share of bad press, Mason believes that if it ‘makes people capable of inhabiting Mars safely without interfering with their ability to live on Earth’ than it should be an ethical process.
Scientists uncovered the tardigrades’ Dsup protein, short for Damage Suppressor, in 2016.
Following this discovery, researchers from the University of Tokyo hypothesized that the protein could help protect the DNA from irradiation stress and tested the effects in human cells exposed to X-rays.
This was compared with human cells which were not given the ability to express the protein.
Those which created the Dsup protein were found to have roughly half the damage of those that did not – and, they were still capable of reproducing.
And Mason and his team plan to use these findings to explore ways the protein can be used to protect astronauts from the effects of space travel.
WHAT ARE TARDIGRADES?
T ardigrades, also known as water bears, are said to be the most indestructible animals in the world
Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are said to be the most indestructible animals in the world.
These small, segmented creatures come in many forms – there are more than 900 species of them – and they’re found everywhere in the world, from the highest mountains to the deepest oceans.
They have 8 legs (4 pairs) and each leg has 4 to 8 claws that resemble the claws of a bear.
Boil the 1mm creatures, freeze them, dry them, expose them to radiation and they’re so resilient they’ll still be alive 200 years later.
Water bears can live through temperatures as low as -457 degrees, heat as high as 357 degrees, and 5,700 grays of radiation, when 10-20 grays would kill humans and most other animals.
Tardigrades have been around for 530 million years and outlived the dinosaurs.
The animals can also live for a decade without water and even survive in space.