First, let me start off by saying that, to date, I have no formal scientific training so really this blog post is just an idea I’ve had.
Over the past while, I’ve been reading up on the process of evolution through natural selection. Mostly I’ve been reading about human evolution but other life, such as dogs, bananas, rice and other random forms of life which have seen significant impacts made to them through human intervention using selective breeding.
I’m of the opinion that in order for the human species to survive, we’ll eventually have to branch out beyond not only our own planet but beyond our own solar system. Certainly not now, not this century and likely not even this millenium, but eventually. So what are some of the things we’ll need to do to make that happen? Well, a major component of that is location or using a planet that we can survive on. Humans obviously have very strict requirements for living – water, oxygen and food being three examples. There’s the possibility of finding another planet out there somewhere that not only sits in the Goldilocks Zone but also has the elements we need, but I don’t think that we should expect to find that. And even if we do to also expect to get there.
That said, I was pondering the idea of terraforming a planet to suit our needs. Some of the fancier ideas out there suggest it could be done in as little as 50 years once the process has begun. This sounds pretty optimistic and fairly improbable to me. Getting back to selective breeding, I’m amazed by the variation in dogs which have been bred by humans over the past 10,000 or so years. And that was without an organized effort and no specific end result in mind. I read a recent National Geographic issue where a team of scientists in Siberia bred foxes over a few generations with the specific intent of domesticating them. Within just a few generations they had foxes that acted just like dogs. That’s surprisingly fast! I then got thinking about the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE) which quite literally transformed the types of life we see on earth some 2.5 billion years ago. It was a period in time when, primarily through plant life, the earth began to have huge amounts of oxygen, ultimately leading to the life forms we see now including homo sapiens.
So my idea and question here is: What if we were to use the process of evolution by selectively breeding plants for the purposes of terraforming another planet, forcing a similar situation to that of the GOE? This is obviously not a quick process by any means. For all I know it could take us a thousand, tens of thousands or many more years. Even with a conserted ongoing effort with a specific final goal. Certainly advances in science will help speed this process up. Nonetheless, obviously with such a collosal long term effort, it would make sense to breed plants with as many varying end results as we can conceptualize, to increase our odds of developing different types of plant breeds for different planetary condition environment scenarios.
With the Kepler telescope significantly speeding up the discovery of extrasolar planets and new technologies being invented, sooner or later we’ll not only be able to know that neighbouring extrasolar planets are there but also be able to get an idea of their make-up. Eventually we’ll be able to determine their atsmospheric composition. Armed with those kinds of details, we could start breeding plants to live within those environments and produce the oxygen we need to survive. It may take us a hundred, a thousand or ten thousand years, but I’m thinking long-term here.