Breeding new human species

Keith Hudson

The identification of yet another Earth-like planet, named Kepler 452b it has been dubbed Earth 2.0 because it is the most Earth-like yet of the 5,000 that have been discovered so far.  It is rocky, has oceans and . . . volcanoes and, one (rather over-excited?) scientist maintains, could grow vegetation if you took an arkful of seedlings there.

Unfortunately, although it’s situated at the right sort of distance from its sun, Kepler 452b is probably getting a trifle hot apparently — as Earth will be in a few billion years’ time.  The oceans may be vaporising and maybe there’ll only bew a few species of archaeia and bacteria —  able to live in the extreme conditions — alive on its ocean bottoms.  It’s six billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than ours.  If quantum physics is correct, which reckons that impossible things can happen sooner or later, or that almost inpossible things can happen sooner — say, a mere 500 million years when the temperature is right (as happened in our Earth’s case) —  then Kepler 452b almost certainly had life at some stage.

And, if life existed on Kepler 452b for at least as long as ours has — about 3.5 billion years — it would have developed intelligent life.  This seems to be an inexorable law of evolution — that, sooner or later nervous sytems evolve and, in due course, they become increasingly complex and brainy.  This is undertanble really.  If a new species suddenly develops — and the latest thinking in biology is that new species always do erupt in this way — it will only be able to survive if it’s lucky enough to find a food niche all of its own, or it’s intelligent enough to oust a former species.

Assuming that we’re intelligent, will we have enough time to become intelligent enough to leave Earth when the sun gets too hot for us?  The chances are very high, I would think.  After only 180,000 years of existence,  10,000 years of civilization, 2,500 years of systemic curiosity (as in China, India and Greece) and 200 years of scientific revolution, we are already getting pretty close to understanding the finest details of our genes and how they are expressed.

It won’t be long before research geneticists somewhere in the world will be experimenting on human foetuses to make them even more intelligent.  It is, of course, outlawed now by all advanced nation-states because politicians are still imbued with out-of-date superstitins religious doctrines and cultural feelings (morals), but it would be very naive to imagine that someone, somewhere, someplace, safely outside the governmental jurisdiction will not try.  Given that we routinely do something very similar — deciding between various proto-foetuses during IVF treatment — then edging that little bit further into the unknown will be irrresistable to someone, and the more brilliant the geneticist the more he or she will want to try.

In order to set ourselves up as freelance space-travellers we’d not only have to develop very high intelligence to solve all the technical problems but, in order to live comfortably in space with all sorts of vastly-changed environmental factors, such as gravity, we’d also have to design different bodies — become new species.  And then, perhaps in a few thousand years (deep-freezing ourselves in the meantime to avoid the boredom), if we found a homely planet, we’d have to redesign our DNA again.

Assuning that we have both the sense and the scientific knowledge to save the Earth’s ecosystem in the coming few hundred years or that we don’t extinguish ourselves accidentally or that a brand new virus doesn]t mutate into a form to which we have no immunity, then it seems highly likely that we’ll start to worry about our essential companion, the sun, and to make plans as its demise approaches.  We’ll likely become space travellers and we’ll likely have to develop many new species before we get the specifications right for space travel.  But also, my guess is that, man’s curiosity being as it is, we’ll be breeding new species of Earth-living humans long before then.

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