I go back and forth on this idea for the most part, but at the end of the day I do not think it will be the answer for the far future of our species. With that being said I think it could very well be a short term fix for a variety of problems that evolution has left us.
In my personal opinion I think if we are going to eventually colonize the galaxy, and universe for that matter, we will eventually have to get rid of our frail flesh and blood bodies. However, that seems to be well beyond our capability at the moment. What does seem more likely is taking of advantage of certain genetic mutations that are available. In both of these articles (which are basically the same) they talk about “real life superheroes” and by that they mean that people that have certain mutations that could either be an advantage or for the unlucky few it could also be a death sentence.
Whether you realize it or not we all played the genetic lottery, most of us came out ok, some are considered winners, while others could surely be labeled losers (I mean that that in the nicest sense, strictly from a scientific point of view). I think I came out somewhere in the middle, I have not been tested to see if my DNA holds any mutations that would predispose me to cancer or any other health issues. In the articles mentioned above there are two individuals that have some rather odd mutations to their DNA.
One gentleman feels almost no pain. While this may seem like a blessing in disguise, this is actually a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong I don’t like pain any more than you, and when it comes to needles I am in the corner crying like 2 yr old. But pain is good, it lets us know when something is not quite right. Imagine a runner tearing a meniscus and never resting it or getting it repaired. Eventually the knee would lock up, and a simple arthroscopic surgery could turn into a more serious one that could lead to the onset of arthritis. That is not a very good example but you can use that example for almost anything in the body. Pain is one of those things that tells us what is going on with our bodies.
Scientist are studying this person and trying to figure out what is going on in his body. This could lead to a breakthrough for better and safer painkillers in the medical world. The implications of this study are near limitless. Imagine a soldier that feels almost no pain, that would certainly make for a very tough enemy to defeat. The article talks more in depth about how this study could help the medical world.
There is another individual mentioned in the study that had extremely dense bones, which I think is a very interesting genetic mutation. In the article they talk about how they have found a protein that could help stimulate bone growth in elderly patients suffering from osteoporosis. They also mention giving this to astronauts who are going to be in space for extended periods of time. Being in space weakens your bones in case you did not know. These are just two very simple and very practical applications for this mutation.
Imagine a world where we could (I hate to use the term “play God,” I consider this the next step in our technological advancement) essentially build our children or a soldier or people for certain professions. Someone could map the perfect bone density to ensure that they never have a broken bone, then set an extremely high tolerance of pain, imagine the possibilities. What if professional football teams instead of drafting players who were made the old fashion way spend billions on this research and “grew” a new offensive line of genetically superior individuals. The military implications of this are also easy to imagine, but I feel that that has been done in so many bad movies and other literature. Part of me thinks that this could be along the lines of doping in the sports world so I have to wonder if any sport would allow a genetically altered individual to participate.
These are just two of the infinite mutations that are out there and yet to be discovered. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I think that this could a bridge that gets us to the stage where we start to transition to mechanical bodies. I would imagine in the next 120-200 years this technology will be easily accessible and cheap. Or it could very well be outlawed, but I can’t imagine why getting rid of the bad stuff in our DNA would be outlawed. We would simple be improving on what nature and evolution gave us. Regardless of the legality of the situation I still do not believe that this is the answer to exploring the universe.
The universe it too dangers a place, as far as travel goes, for a flesh and blood body. Even if we could make ourselves impervious to radiation, which would be a great start, there are still a number of other issues that we would have to combat. Food, water, breathable air, at the end of the day we would still be dependent on these things and no matter how genetically perfect we were. Albeit we could maybe reduce out caloric intake, as well as water, but I do not think that we could go more than a few minutes without air. We could also maybe “program” ourselves to hibernate on long space flights, which would certainly help. Again the possibilities are near endless, but I think at some point in the far future when and if we master this technology there will be a point were nothing else could be done. What I mean is that we will eventually get to a point where there are no more upgrades available. What nature left us will have been maxed out so to speak from an engineering perspective. Eventually we will have to change our overall makeup and design if we continue with this technology. I read once that nature basically gave us a VW Bug frame and engine. Along the way it made some upgrades, maybe a bigger engine, better tires, stronger frame, but at the end of the day it’s still a VW Bug. Eventually we will need to scrap the VW Bug and upgrade to a Ferrari F430. I hope the analogies make sense here. My point is that our frame and design, I believe will eventually become obsolete like so many other machines. Like the vacuum tube transitioning to a microprocessor or computer chip, the old design is usually scraped.
At this point I imagine we will start to look at the mechanical side of things as I would think robotic technology would have grown by leaps and bounds and it could be cheaper and easier to make a robotic arm or what have you as opposed to growing a flesh and blood arm. It’s scary and fascinating to imagine what a human designed human would look like. Nature gave us a very simple structure, but soon I think we will have the power to more or less make ourselves however we saw fit, and that is a very interesting thought. I have read that having the windpipe and the esophagus basically on top of each other is of very poor design and causes choking as well as having the anus and the gentiles so close together is also of poor design and leads to infections. Also the birth canal is very narrow compared to the size of a human babies head. These are just a few examples, but the real question is that if we had the power how would we redesign ourselves?
The other school of though is that on a cellular level we could make a perfect cell that never dies or ages and that is impervious to infection. If that is the case then I do not think that the transition to machine bodies would be necessary. Still I would have to imagine that that technology would be available. That is another scary thought, that we ourselves could potentially create a “perfect” cellular human.