GENET archive


2-Plants: Miraculous GE world (2): GE plants will help colonizing Mars

----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------

TITLE:  Genetic engineering of plants urged to aid in space travel
SOURCE: Post Gazette, USA, by Michael Woods
DATE:   February 19, 2000

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Genetic engineering of plants urged to aid in space travel

WASHINGTON -- Scientists say the colonization of Mars could be 
accelerated if they can breed a new generation of trees that grow 
their own protective "greenhouses."

Freeman Dyson, a renowned physicist at Princeton University's 
Institute for Advanced Physics, proposes that a government-university 
research program be launched to genetically engineer such plants. He 
spoke yesterday at the national meeting of the American Association 
for the Advancement of Science.

"Turtles grow their own shell," Dyson said. "Polar bears grow fur to 
survive in the cold. Growing protective coverings that permit life in 
harsh environments is something animals are very good at. Plants 
haven't learned the trick yet. Maybe gene transfer can help them out."

Dyson said that breeding such plants would solve the problem of 
providing a suitable human habitat and an ample supply of food and 
other material for space colonists. Instead of transporting air-tight 
domes and other essentials from Earth -- at enormous cost -- space 
colonists would bring the new generation of saplings instead.

"Forests would build huge greenhouses over their heads," said Dyson, 
describing how groups of greenhouses would grow together to form 
extended habitats for people, food crops, and domestic animals. The 
greenhouses would consist of a tough, transparent skin that would 
keep the enclosed space warm as heat from the sun enters and is 
trapped inside. The skin would conserve oxygen that trees and other 
plants produce during photosynthesis. It also would conserve precious 
water vapor and other moisture.

A hare-brained idea? Not in the view of National Aeronautics and 
Space Administration scientists, who agreed that the habitat problem 
is a major barrier to colonization of space.

"We actually have a very active program in plant biotechnology," said 
Kathie Olsen, NASA's chief scientist. "I can see the images in Dr. 
Dyson's vision."

Dr. Yoji Kondo, an expert on human space travel at NASA's Goddard 
Space Flight Center, suggested that plants genetically modified to 
thrive on other worlds will become a reality.

Olsen said NASA has by no means ruled out the possibility of 
genetically modifying astronauts, as well, to cope better with the 
stresses of long-duration space flight. It would involve inserting 
genes that protect against major health problems associated with low-
gravity conditions in space.


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