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Humans have the capacity for very long-term thinking, yet we are often careless about the welfare of Earth and reckless when it comes to our destructive abilities. As such, we may eventually be confronted with the necessity of colonizing the Universe. In such a scenario, might it be possible to genetically modify humanity to optimize ourselves for the new environmental challenges we will face on other planets? In his new book, The Next 500 Years, geneticist Christopher Mason argues, “It is no longer a question of ‘if’ we can engineer life—only ‘how’” and “Engineering is humanity's innate duty, needed to ensure the survival of life.”

In the book's first chapter, Mason discusses his role in the NASA Twins Study (1), which sought to measure various physiological markers in astronaut Scott Kelly during a year aboard the International Space Station and compare these indices with comparable data from his identical twin, astronaut Mark Kelly, who remained earthbound during the same period. The study, he argues, which found (among other things) that the expression of a number of genes related to DNA repair remained elevated 6 months after Scott returned to Earth, has enormous implications for understanding exactly how the space environment affects the human body.

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