Synthetic Biology for Space Exploration: Promises and Societal Implications
Cyprien N. Verseux, Ivan G. Paulino-Lima, Mickael BaquƩ, Daniela Billi, Lynn J. Rothschild; ASI sponsor
Jan - 2016
ISBN : 978-3-319-21088-9
Book Title :

type: Book Section

Synthetic biology can greatly accelerate the development of human space exploration, to the point of allowing permanent human bases on Mars within our lifetime. Among the technological issues to be tackled is the need to provide the consumables required to sustain crews, and using biological systems for the on-site production of resources is an attractive approach. However, all organisms we currently know have evolved on Earth and most extraterrestrial environments stress the capabilities of even terrestrial extremophiles. Two challenges consequently arise: organisms should survive in a metabolically active state with minimal maintenance requirements, and produce compounds of interest while relying only on inputs found in the explored areas. A solution could come from the tools and methods recently developed within the field of synthetic biology. The societal implications are complex: there are implications with synthetic biology and human space colonization independently, and together there are potentially more issues. Establishing colonies relying to a large extent on modified organisms and transferring the developed technologies to terrestrial applications raises a wide range of critical ethical questions and unprecedented societal impacts, on Earth as well as on colonized planetary bodies. The scenario of humans as a multi-planet species should be addressed now, as technologies aimed at making it happen are already under development. Here we give a brief overview of the synthetic biology technologies that are being developed to aid human space exploration, before discussing the impacts of proposed medium-term scenarios on the evolution of our society.

keywords : Acknowledgements. The authors [...] They also thank the Italian SpaceAgency for supporting the Biomex_Cyano and BOSS_Cyano experiments. [...]