November 14, 2010

Venter to NASA: Re-engineer your astronauts

Craig Venter recently spoke to a group of scientists at NASA Ames and told them that NASA already does genetic selection when it picks astronauts—he just wants them to get even more systematic about its process:
Inner ear changes could allow people to escape motion sickness...[You could have genes for] bone regeneration, DNA repair from radiation, a strong immune system, small stature, high energy utilization, a low risk of genetic disease, smell receptors, a lack of hair, slow skin turnover, dental decay and so on. If people are traveling in space for their whole lives, they may want to engineer genetic traits for other purposes.
Ethics are a stumbling block, though, and Venter admitted that getting there will be difficult:
Human engineering is one of those things we all agree that you can’t do, because you can’t do human experimentation. Making that leap from genetic selection to genetic engineering will be a very complex one for society to make – if it ever does. I don’t think doing it in space makes it any easier.


ZarPaulus said...

One would think that modifying people to live in extreme environments would be one of the least controversial forms of HGE (after disease screening of course).

Ed Keller said...

Peter Watts took this on in a tongue in cheek and brilliant way in his book Blindsight- by genetically cross engineering his human spacefarers with a resurrected partially human gene line.