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Author Topic: Going to Mars: Can we engineer cancer-resistant humans?  (Read 1391 times)

Offline evan_au

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One of the risks of going to Mars is high radiation exposure on the way there, and while living on the surface.

It has been observed that elephants have lower rates of cancer than humans, despite having far more cells in their body that could "go rogue", and cause cancer.

Researchers have discovered that elephants have 30-40 copies of the p53 tumor-suppression gene, compared to just 2 copies in humans.

This means that it is highly unlikely that a series of mutations could knock out all copies of p53.

Could we add in extra copies of p53 into the genomes of people going to Mars, to provide some additional protection against cancer? 


 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Going to Mars: Can we engineer cancer-resistant humans?
« Reply #1 on: 24/10/2015 12:23:20 »
Why bother?

A round trip including landing on Mars would be ridiculously expensive and is completely unnecessary. There are plenty of old fogeys like me who would be perfectly happy to be the first humans to die on another planet (no need for psychological acclimatisiation - just spend a night in Slough and you will be happy to die anywhere else). So having saved a vast amount of fuel and hardware, we can carry a bit more radiation shielding.

The expected dose of cosmic radiation during the journey is about 0.3 sievert. The lifetime risk of expressing a fatal radiogenic cancer is 5% per sievert, which equates to a 1 in 66 probability of dying from radiation, but only after a 10 - 15 year latency period. Aged 70, I really don't care what happens to me in 15 years' time (in fact I intend to die sometime around my 84th birthday)  and, like every other septuagenarian, I have a 1 in 3 probability of dying from a naturally-occuring cancer anyway.

So, no need for heroics, re-entry, or many of the other problems that make rocket engineering so much more complicated than rocket science. I promise to do the experimental work, be nice to my fellow astronauts, not complain about the food, and give regular lectures including killing myself on live television not later than 2030 - what a show!
 

Offline chris

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Re: Going to Mars: Can we engineer cancer-resistant humans?
« Reply #2 on: 24/10/2015 13:18:21 »
A simpler solution would be a decent radiation shield, like the one Ruth Bamford and her colleagues are building:

http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/interviews/interview/1000759/

Chris
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Going to Mars: Can we engineer cancer-resistant humans?
« Reply #3 on: 25/10/2015 20:41:31 »
Small problem. If you deflect an energetic charged particle, it will emit gamma radiation - that 's how synchrotrons generate x-rays. and the problem with gamma radiation is that you can't absorb it with anything other than a dense metal, which is what you are trying to avoid in the first place. It all seems like a very complicated way of solving a non-problem. 

What could possibly be simpler than just selecting astronauts who are too old to worry about radiation damage, and even better, astronauts who don't want to come back to earth? There are plenty of old space cowboys to fly the ship, and even more time-expired scientists like me to run the lab when we get there. What happened to the spirit of the Mayflower? I don't recall the Pilgrim Fathers worrying about re-entry or even the possibility of being eaten by sharks en route.

There was a brilliant suggestion some years ago for a nuclear waste facility to be run and guarded by retired scientific and military personnel with a life expectancy of less than 15 years. It would have been great fun to spend one's "declining" years in the company of likeminded people, doing something really useful that younger folks could not contemplate. 
 

Offline chris

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Re: Going to Mars: Can we engineer cancer-resistant humans?
« Reply #4 on: 26/10/2015 08:35:39 »
Will that lead to appreciable gamma / x-ray output, with the approach that's being proposed, Alan?
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Going to Mars: Can we engineer cancer-resistant humans?
« Reply #5 on: 26/10/2015 21:26:25 »
I would hope so, otherwise there's something wrong with the laws of physics, and all the money we spent on synchrotron wigglers was wasted.
« Last Edit: 26/10/2015 21:27:59 by alancalverd »
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Re: Going to Mars: Can we engineer cancer-resistant humans?
« Reply #6 on: 26/10/2015 22:44:20 »
You theoretically could engineer humans to add loads of P53, but it would take an awful long time; that would probably need germ line genetic engineering, then they've got to grow up etc. It would probably take many decades to do that successfully and safely.

There is an easier option, which is just to launch a whole bunch of radiation shield onto a cycler orbit. You could then dock with the shielding and use that to protect you on the way. The cycler would keep going past Earth and Mars, and would be reusable.

You'd have to get the mass for the shields from somewhere; probably chipping bits off Phobos or Deimos could be a good bet.
« Last Edit: 26/10/2015 22:46:32 by wolfekeeper »
 

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Re: Going to Mars: Can we engineer cancer-resistant humans?
« Reply #6 on: 26/10/2015 22:44:20 »

 

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