Opportunities For Evolution In Space

February 9, 2023 5 mins to read

The selection of individuals with the best reproductive success must be a key goal when the future of human evolution in space will be driven by challenges that are both similar and dissimilar to those that have guided our evolution for countless generations. Our species, Homo sapiens, first evolved in Africa around 315,000 years ago, and while we’re very similar, our species evolved with a wide range of characteristics that allow us to adapt to different environments. DNA research has revealed that our genetic traits have evolved since humans first walked the Earth. 

An evolutionary biologist named Scott Solomon believes that a significant change in our environment could cause us to evolve quickly. 

Isn’t it true that moving to another planet is the most dramatic change? The future of human evolution in space will entail adapting or developing solutions to well-known issues encountered during space travel like astronauts experiencing physiological changes after a few months in space because of radiation and the effects of microgravity. One example is bone density loss, which occurs when our bones are not subject to the stress of gravity. To overcome this challenge, future humans may evolve thicker bones selection of physical characteristics such as skin color and some diseases.

Human Adaptation In Space

Considering the future of human evolution and adaptation to the space environment, however, there are both evolutionary and ethical implications. We’d want to call attention to a few essential facts about reproductive success, both methodological and theoretical, in evolutionary theory.

 To begin studying adaptation from an evolutionary standpoint demands population-level research, as this will reveal the nature of the phenotype linked to the best breeding success during spaceflight. This is the most effective method for determining if organisms will survive in space.

Previous research on microorganisms in microgravity has revealed some fascinating evolutionary tendencies. Microgravity-exposed bacterial populations show enhanced growth rates, implying particular modifications that allow them to surpass their terrestrial equivalents’ cultures. A variety of factors could explain the greater growth yields of space-exposed bacteria, including differential gene and protein expression, alternative splicing, and genome size reduction. The ultimate costs of these mutations and phenotypic’ long-term persistence have yet to be determined.

Because gravity partially influenced processes like blastula growth, understanding how developmental restrictions restrain evolution in microgravity is a future. 

To begin, we must use sexually reproducing animal models that have been exposed to microgravity and space radiation, and then track short-term alterations in pre-and post-natal growth patterns, as well as genomic and phenotypic changes throughout time. 

We can find critical genes and alleles for space adaptations by enabling the population to evolve and establish these variations in gene frequencies related to high reproductive success.

 Second, taking an evolutionary approach to human adaptation to the space environment will shed more light on elements of human reproduction in microgravity that go beyond medical concerns. Genetic conflict, mate selection, and social limitations all play a role in reproduction. Future research will need to incorporate distinct human biology and evolution aspects.

It’s worth noting that the term “reproduction” here refers to sexual reproduction rather than asexual reproduction. Because of developmental restrictions inherited from human evolution, human evolution in the space environment will never return to asexual reproduction. This is based on the order in which we express genes inherited from both the father and the mother during embryonic development.

Below, summarizes NASA’s life program’s evolution, as well as a sampling of its accomplishments.

Evolution Of The Research Mission

NASA headquarters developed offices for life and microgravity sciences in the 1970s. They formalized the research mission as three distinct programs in the life sciences:

(1) Gravitational biology—understanding the importance and role of gravity in the development and evolution of life.

 (2) Biomedical research—identifying and eliminating the primary physiological and psychological barriers to human spaceflight. and 

(3) Operational medicine—developing life support systems to facilitate human expansion in space.

These three initiatives received funding from specific NASA centers namely  Johnson Space Center and Ames Research Center, and the three principles defined by these early programs continue to define spaceflight life sciences research aims and priorities.

Developmental, Reproductive & Evolutionary Biology Program

Thanks to the research conducted, scientists can examine generations of mouse reproduction. In a year, they can study six generations of mice to examine a mother who comes from a line of germ cells that was exposed to microgravity. The question that arises is how this affects people’s lives?  How do bones develop? What about the gravitational dependence of various tissues and organisms? How do brain cells communicate? What about our sense of well-being and connection? To answer these questions, scientists use genomic studies to track cross-generational changes.

The explicit interest of this program is in rodent reproductive capacity and experiments that study gestation over multiple generations are the long-term goal also to know if pregnancy can occur in microgravity, how microgravity affects fetus development, and how microgravity affects mammalian development as babies are born and offspring grow.

We believe that understanding the genomic, physiological, and behavioral mechanisms underlying adaptations to novel and disparate environmental conditions can be seen through the lens of evolution. 

Evolutionary biology is a branch of biology that seeks to comprehend a simple equation, i.e., how evolution solves an ecological problem. This is the question that life space science has attempted to answer: how do humans adapt to the environment of space?

 By incorporating current space research into evolutionary biology, we may develop new paradigms that will assist humans in coping with deep space travel. We are now entering a very exciting era in which such interesting questions will be addressed.

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