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Posts Tagged ‘maggots’

Playing ‘Red-Light, Green-Light’ in Space

If you dislike insects, then long term space travel is probably not for you. Contrary to the space operas you may have read or watched, wise humans will always surround themselves with creepy critters who love to do our dirty work. For that matter, can we even survive happily or well without our companion animals? Can we remain humans as we know ourselves in the absence of other Earthling species? I suspect not.

Since the start of 2011′s Science in My Fiction Contest, I’ve been tweeting and blogging links to science news items that may prove useful to potential contestants. First, I touched on some interesting technological ideas for use in science-inspired fiction. Then I reminded writers that ecology-based worldbuilding doesn’t end when humans leave Earth behind. This week, I recommend maggots, parrots and molecular ‘traffic lights’ as likely candidates for your far future fiction:

In space stories, there are a couple everyday events that are usually ignored or glossed over as much as possible. Death and poop. These are naturally messy processes and products, and we will need systems in place to turn our losses into something beneficial. We could do as we do now and send low-status humans to clean up and process the ‘waste,’ or we could invent robots to do the work, but I think we can do better than that. Why not save ourselves a lot of inconvenience and bring nature’s cleaning crew with us on our long space journeys? Yes, I’m suggesting we recycle the dead and the digested with the help of fly larvae. Think of it as our descendants’ way of ‘returning to the earth’ without having to make a U-turn in space.

Even after we’re well-settled in space, we may never discover alien life that we can recognize or communicate with. That doesn’t mean humans will ever be alone in the universe. We may dominate the Earth, but we’re hardly the only clever beasts around. We’re not even the only tool-users! In the future, spacefarers may need to choose their shipboard plant and animal communities with even greater care than their human crew, and with that in mind, I would like to recommend brainy birds. It might be tricky to engineer space environments favorable to delicate species, but it might be worth it for the sake of biodiversity. And you never know when a speech-mimicking, tool-using, air-travelling seed disperser might come in handy on a starship.

In the far future, there will literally be sickness like we’ve never known. Along with many of the things we’re familiar with on Earth. There really should be no doubt that various methods of genetic engineering will come in to play – if not before liftoff, then certainly while we’re between-worlds – but not every genetic problem humans (or the species we bring to space with us) have now or develop later will require us to replace ‘bad’ genes with ‘good’ genes. Sometimes the problem isn’t the DNA itself, but the little under-appreciated messengers employed by the genes. Per DNA instructions, mRNA tell cells what proteins to make in order to function, but sometimes the little messengers stop short and deliver only part of the blueprint. The results can be deadly, so it’s a good thing for our fiction (and our futures) that we’re working out how to bring more subtlety to our interactions with genomes.

Now, go! Write! Win! And if you come across a scientific development you’re interested in sharing, leave a comment or ping me on Twitter @sandykidd.