At the moment adaptation of the human form is purely speculative and like most scientific advances, in the realm of the imagination. All of those things we experience in our dreams: leaning into a gently blowing breeze to be taken aloft and soar, free of our mammalian land-dependent reality; A dive into the deep blue-green waters, warm and inviting to discover we can breath and explore and be at peace. Whatever the human mind can conceive, it can achieve. Pair that up with necessity is the mother of invention and not only do you get a cliché laden paragraph, but a roadmap to the future survival of the human race.
My inclination is to jump straight to the stars, so clear is the reality and necessity of that eventuality, so varied the environments to which we must adapt. But let’s start here and develop a worst case scenario. On earth. The next 50 years. Global warming continues. Perhaps we surpassed the tipping point. Oceans rise, land dwindles. The planet, our spaceship earth, becomes hostile to humans… in their present form. Investment has not been made sufficiently in extrasolar planet expeditions or colonization efforts.
Who among us, so long as the subjective “humanity” could be preserved to your satisfaction, would not opt to alter the physical shell of the human to preserve humanity? Nomadic to Agrarian to Industrial to Informational to Aquatic.
Of course, at present we do not have the technology or the knowledge to make these kinds of radical changes to ourselves, but it could happen with genetic engineering, gene and stem cell therapy. We could create the desired human using genetically engineered cells to produce the necessary tissue or organs. DNA could be cloned and the genes manipulated and used to create the future human. Stem cells manipulated and implanted, possibly with the help of some nanorobots and a little AI thrown into the mix. What about tissue or organs from animals, developed for human use. We could grow new, different organs altered to suit a particular purpose. Gills, blow holes, regenerative limbs and appendages.
All of these theories are speculative with very little research or experimentation to back up any of these ideas so prevalent in the science of tomorrow, i.e. science fiction. In 1957 James Blish wrote a collection of science fiction stories that were published in ‘Seedling Stars’. These stories introduced a new word ‘Pantropy’, meaning ‘to change all’, which encompassed the idea of changing the human form to survive on other planet. Of course at the time little was know about just how extreme the environments could be!
What if we could develop wings? Survive underwater? Or completely adapt for survival in currently hostile environments; places of extreme temperature, where gravitational pull is higher or lower, the air unbreathable – i.e. other planets. Maybe we would want to adapt ourselves to have very long limbs or to be very short because it suited our chosen profession. Or what about getting the eyes of a hawk or the skin of a rhino, all of these adaptations have their potential uses.
The same process would apply to adaptation to whatever new environment we found ourselves in; identify the changes needed, sort out which genes to change and engineer the changes. But what if we started out on our long space journey, uncertain of the conditions at our final destination? How would we survive the possibly centuries long journey?
We set out on our journey in search of a new home planet; we’re not entirely sure what the environment will be like once we get there, but we have some ideas about what we’re looking for, we’d like it to be as close as possible to earths atmosphere. Our volunteer crew choose their role:
- To be initial crew members those that start the journey, running the ship for the first 200 years. We have of course perfected longevity by this time. These crew have specialist skills and have been genetically modified for those task.
- To be placed in a state of suspended animation awaiting the time when they will be needed as replacement crew.
- As above but available for genetic modification once the new planet has been found and the modification needs identified.
- A bank of frozen embryos will be waiting for the time when the planet has been found. They will be appropriately modified to meet the needs of the new planet.
There’s a couple of nuances (or not so much) that should be addressed in our fanciful foray into the future: First, the need for a bullet proof immune system must be created. Not evolved, created. But perhaps using the principles of evolution. Antibiotics, the wonder of our age is one of the greatest threats to mankind. Rather than making we the host stronger, we create a Darwinian hot house for the development of the super bug. Let’s get back to what ought to be basics. Make the human stronger, not the environmental threats.
Second, and this is no small thing, when redesigning a human vessel for an environment, we have a long way to go in understanding the threads of evolutionary psychology and its affect on perception and attraction. If you’ll recall (or please go see) the article on How Evolution Works, then you’ll understand that it is the mating factor that multiplies genetic traits. Assuming the idea of attraction has at least some genetic predisposition (not a guaranteed assumption), then we would need tweak that predisposition. In the case of a heavy gravity planet, for instance, individuals would need to be hard wired to appreciate short and stout. And perhaps sing I’m a little tea pot.
All very easy really, when’s the next ship out?