Over the course of history mankind has modified plants and animals to fit the needs of the population. Some animals were bred to produce more meat or softer coats, while others breeds were selected for stamina or strength. Plants were also selected for better yields, larger fruits and the ability to grow in certain conditions. Even insects have been selected over the years, especially bees and other pollinators. These genetically selected organisms offer humans an advantage and therefore have been cultivated and bred over several generations.
With the birth of modern technology, scientists have further modified plants and animals. By adding or modifying segments of the genes, plants and animals can be created for a variety of reasons. These plants and animals are genetically modified organisms (GMO.) While this might be a very controversial subject right now, in the future these organisms can give us an advantage in planetary colonization in the future.
Current GMO Projects
Even though there is a lot of controversy, there are many beneficial GMO uses.
Although we mostly think of GMOs as plants and animals, the first organisms to be modified were bacterial. Current uses for modified bacteria include protein production to treat diabetes clotting factors and human growth hormones and to produce bio fuels.
Golden rice was developed in 2000 by Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer to combat vitamin A deficiency which kills nearly 670,000 children under the age of 5 each year. By using and inserting genes from the daffodil and a soil bacteria, Erwinia uredovora, the Golden Rice plant is able to produce beta-carotene and store it in the rice grain.
GMO animals are important to researches. By modifying the genes of mammals, scientists can run a variety of tests for drugs, organ transplants and drug therapies. Other uses of GMO animals have produced cows that can produce human breast milk, goats that can produce spider web silk in milk, and pigs that can digest phosphorus (which leads to less water pollution.)
These modified organisms offer the human race advantages we would not have by normal means and as we advance, the modifications can have a huge advantage in the future.
Future uses of GMO
As the population of Earth grows, GMO foods will become increasingly important to keep people fed, but what happens when we leave our home world to colonize other planets. Right now we can only guess at the conditions that exist. Some may not be habitable by humans and some could be with only some modifications.
This is where genetically modified organisms could be of great assistance.
Humans need a particular combination of elements in order to survive. Oxygen levels are essential for our ability to survive. While higher levels are tolerable, low levels of oxygen would be disastrous. But what if a world with a low oxygen percentage could be seeded with organisms that would amp up the production of oxygen in the air?
Genetically modified organisms could be produced specifically for the type of planet we are trying to colonize. Oxygen can be produced by a variety of plants and animals that we have here on Earth, or other organisms from the planet itself could be modified once we broke down the genetic code.
Other hazards of a planet could be overcome with modified organisms. Many fungi on Earth can absorb hazardous waste and heavy metals. Adding those genomes to plants or even altering the fungi further could not only help clean up the Earth but allow us to colonize planets that have toxic levels of chemicals humans currently cannot tolerate.
Genetically modified organisms can also be the answer for our food needs during colonization. Many plants and animals here on Earth are edible, however, we can’t guarantee that other planets will have a sustainable food supply for us. Genetically modified plants and animals might be able to convert native plants, soils and animals into food we can eat. Wastes can also be modified to produce things we need such as bio-fuel, building materials and more.
Other options would be to modify the humans for the conditions necessary for colonization. With advances in science, humans could be modified for photosynthesis, natural sunscreen or the ability to consume native plants and animals.
So although GMOs might be a frightening aspect of our lives right now. It’s clear it gives us an advantage for humans in the future. Without specifically engineered organisms, colonizations will be much more difficult, expensive and possibly futile. So instead of looking to GMOs with fear, perhaps we should be looking at it as the next step in our evolution.