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Humans are fragile organisms. As long as there is enough air and the temperature isn’t too hot or too cold, we function just fine. But, if we’re deprived of air for any length of time, or if the temperature plummets, we’re in trouble. Put simply, we’re not designed to explore the more extreme areas of this planet, or any other planet, without protection. Today, it is nuts and bolts engineering that allows us to explore the ocean depths and journey into space, but in the future it might be a different kind of engineering that allows us to survive—and even thrive—in extreme environments. This is a theme that sci-fi writers have followed for decades; rather than build machines to protect fragile human bodies, sci-fi authors bioengineer their characters’ bodies. Here are some examples.
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A key property of DNA is that it can make copies of itself. Each DNA strand in the double helix can serve as a pattern for duplicating the sequence of bases. This is critical when cells divide because each new cell must have an exact copy of the DNA present in the old cell. When these cells are damaged by radiation, mutations can occur because radiation can damage DNA by altering nucleotide bases so they look like other nucleotide bases. When DNA strands are separated and copied, the altered base will pair with an incorrect base and cause the mutation. Radiation can also damage DNA by breaking the bonds, thereby creating a mutated form of the gene, which may produce a protein that functions differently.
- Designing Humans
- Springer Berlin Heidelberg
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