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Could humans evolve to adapt to Mars? © Getty Images

Could humans evolve to adapt to Mars?

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Matt Damon makes becoming a martian look all too easy.

Asked by: Claire Price, Merthyr Tydfil


Evolve by natural selection? Definitely not. Genes to help deal with radiation and low gravity aren’t impossible, and eventually humans would probably evolve these adaptations. But evolution won’t help us with the Martian atmosphere. Natural selection needs an environment that kills the weak but lets the strong survive. Mars has almost no atmosphere and none of it is oxygen, which means that it is 100 per cent fatal to everyone. You’ll have three minutes to evolve to breathe CO2 before you suffocate, and after that you won’t make any further contribution to the gene pool. Even if you kept Mars colonists inside a pressurised dome and ever so gradually reduced the pressure and oxygen concentration over hundreds of thousands of years, it wouldn’t help us to evolve.

Natural selection might evolve better and better ways to manage on what little oxygen there was, but it is never going to give us cells that don’t need oxygen at all. We burned that evolutionary bridge two billion years ago. We will adapt to life on Mars by using technology, and it would actually be easier and faster to add oxygen to the Martian atmosphere, than for us to evolve to live without it!

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luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.


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