Tuesday, February 25, 2014
By Jordan Green
All life on our planet has changed as our planet has changed. From the birth of our planet out of the cosmic Big Bang, to the time of the dinosaurs, through the ice ages, life has gone extinct, been reborn, and evolved to survive.
Could the high-tech scientific world genetically alter a future version of you to survive climate change?
Over the past three-years, about 30 healthy genetically modified people have been born in the United States.
Genes from three or more “parents” were used to alter these genetically modified babies, in couples that had trouble conceiving children.
Although this allowed people unable to conceive children to have kids, it is a new science, and a controversial one, raising numerous ethical dilemmas about weeding out the very faults which make us human.
For years, scientists have been researching ways to alter us through the building blocks of life. From preventing baldness and heart disease, to changing the color of an unborn baby’s eyes from brown to blue.
So far, the genetic engineering of people has focused on the obvious traits that we all desire. Genetic researchers want to make us stronger, faster and more intelligent people.
What if we put aside the ethical issues and looked at the genetic engineering of our species not as a tool to make us better, but a necessity for our species to survive?
Although there is much debate about who is to blame for climate change, the real issue is our very survival as a species.
Over 280,000 people have died in the United Kingdom so far, due to the dramatically brutal winter they are experiencing this season.
That’s pretty close to the estimated 300,000 people globally that die every year from climate change, according to a United Nations Global Humanitarian Forum report.
And that 300,000 worldwide estimate isn’t just the United Kingdom, nor is it just from the cold. Those figures include deaths caused from the spread of disease, malnutrition and natural disasters caused by climate change.
But what if instead of focusing on making us stronger, faster and smarter, genetic researchers tried to make us more resistant to the effects of climate change?
Human beings are very fragile and weak when compared to most other living things on our planet – if it wasn’t for our brain power, we’d never have made it out of the stone age.
Frostbite occurs when the water in our cells freezes, and it doesn’t take much cold to do that. Our fingers and toes will feel it first at temperatures of -30°C (-22°F), as our natural way of trying to preserve heat is for our bodies to re-direct blood from the extremities to keep our inner core warm.
You can function without fingers and toes, but you can’t live without your vital organs – death will occur if frostbite strikes your stomach, liver and heart, which can happen if you don’t get out of the extreme cold.
Our species doesn’t handle extreme heat well either.
Heatstroke occurs when the core temperature of the body exceeds 40°C (105°F), which can happen in temperatures over 30°C (86°F). At these high temperatures, our body’s cooling system fails, and you simply cannot cool down, leading to nausea, seizures, disorientation, unconsciousness, coma and death.
Instead of trying to tweak us humans to be smarter, perhaps science could re-engineer us to resist these temperature extremes?
Other animals over hundreds of thousands of years have evolved to withstand the elements.
The polar bear has evolved over time to take the frigid Arctic cold, able to handle temperatures from 25°C to -67°C (77°F to -90°F). Camels can go eight days without water, and take temperatures as high as 49°C (120°F). However, the winner has to be the tardigrade, which can go 10 years without water and handle temperatures from 151°C to -273°C (304°F to -459°F). Tardigrades are teeny-tiny waterbears that live in the farthest northern reaches of our planet, including Iceland and northern Russia, and measure a mere 0.5mm (0.020 inches) long.
Although we can’t handle temperatures that extreme, science may one day be able to make us more resilient to survive climate change.
Not that re-engineering people is the complete solution. If we can figure out how to make us faster, smarter, stronger, and more resilient to the effects of climate change, we should also be smart enough to reduce our impact on the planet.
Genetically modifying people may give us the ability to deal with our planet’s natural climatic changes, so that we have the time to resolve the damage we’ve already caused our planet. Although over hundreds of thousands of years we may evolve to be faster, smarter and stronger, because of our impact on the Earth, we don’t have that long to wait.