A scientific expert has suggested that colonizing Mars may be the determining factor that may trigger evolutionary biology processes which can, "in just a few hundred generations, perhaps as little as 6,000 years," lead to the emergence of a new type of human species.
Scott Solomon, an evolutionary biologist at Rice University in Houston and the author of "Future Humans: Inside the Science of Our Continuing Evolution" argued that similar to the "founder effect" noticed in species that inhabit and colonize a new environment, humans will also adapt to the conditions on the red planet.
"This happens routinely to animals and plants isolated on islands — think of Darwin's finches," Scott Solomon said in a recent interview with Nautilus. Several conditions on Mars such as weaker gravity and sunlight or the intense mutation-causing radiation can cause distinct evolutionary changes, according to Solomon.
For instance, although the low gravity on Mars can cause a severe loss of bone density, leading to recurring fractures, Solomon suggests that it is possible that “after many generations, Martian people could end up with naturally thicker bones than their forebears, lending them a more robust appearance.”
Similarly, Solomon offered two ways human bodies may adapt to the intense mutation-causing radiation.
“Radiation damages DNA, creating the sort of mutations that lead to cancer. While this might mean higher cancer rates for Martian settlers, it could also accelerate the evolutionary process by jump-starting the creation of random genetic variation, including traits that are beneficial in the Martian environment,” Solomon said.
However, not all associated domain experts were fully convinced about Solomon’s theory, especially about the timescales involved.
"Evolution to a new species by the classic definition of not being able to breed with humans would take a long time, probably thousands of generations and a hundred thousand years," Chris Impey, University of Arizona astronomer told NBC News.
Similarly, Philipp Mitteröcker, a theoretical biologist at the University of Vienna in Austria, also expressed doubt.
"Speciation is a long-term process that usually requires reproductive isolation over millions of years," Mitteröcker said. "Some human populations had been isolated for thousands of years and are still far away from being a separate species. It is thus unlikely that humans who had colonized Mars [would] become a separate species."
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