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First Humans On Mars Will Evolve Into An Entirely New Species Quickly, Says Evolutionary Biologist

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Scientists say it's inevitable to establish human settlements on Mars, but what will happen to the species there? In the photo is an artist's concept of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft approaching the Red Planet.  ( NASA | JPL-Caltech )

Mars is looking like more and more of a possibility with each space expedition — but what happens once humans get to the Red Planet?

While most scientific fields are focused on making the possibility of traveling to and settling on Mars a reality, Scott Solomon, an evolutionary biologist and professor at Rice University, is contemplating about the planet's impact on the human species.

After all, a human colony in Mars would involve humans not only living on the Red Planet, but also reproducing there, Solomon pointed out in a TEDx Talks discussion in 2018. Living in conditions vastly different from Earth is expected to trigger changes in the human babies born there and Solomon has very concrete ideas on what these changes will be.

Likely Traits Of Future Mars Humans

In an interview with Inverse, Solomon explained that the various evolutionary changes in humans could occur at a much faster rate on Mars than they would on Earth. Within a generation or two, he predicted that human colonizers could already display changes to adapt to the new environment.

"Evolution is faster or slower depending on how much of an advantage there is to having a certain mutation," he explained. "If a mutation pops up for people living on Mars, and it gives them a 50-percent survival advantage, that's a huge advantage, right? And that means that those individuals are going to be passing those genes on at a much higher rate than they otherwise would have."

For one, Mars' gravity is only a third of Earth's, which could make bones more brittle and prone to breaking. To overcome this challenge, human bones could become stronger and denser.

Other potential changes that Solomon predicted include a new skin tone to protect humans from the higher radiation levels on Mars, near-sightedness due to smaller living spaces, and more efficient oxygen usage to make the most of the lower oxygen supply.

If humans end up living in a sterile environment in Mars, it's also possible for them to lose their immune system due to the lack of microorganisms around them.

Eventually, the Martian humans could diverge completely from the humans left on Earth, according to Solomon. If those from the Red Planet lose their immune system, sex between the two species could be lethal.

Colonizing Other Planets

During his TEDx Talks session, Solomon pointed out that venturing beyond Earth and colonizing other planets would make it more likely for the human species to survive. Mars is a very real prospect — and many scientists are already working on making it possible in the near future.

NASA is targeting a manned mission to Mars in 2033, while Elon Musk's SpaceX wants a manned mission by 2024 and a human colony to start by 2025.

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