Click here to support the Daily Grail for as little as $US1 per month on Patreon
Mars One

Homo Martis: A New Species May Soon Dawn

We are on the verge of creating an entirely new species of human.

Now, my clear penchant for genetics, technology, and biomedical research might have you thinking that I’m referring to some kind of cybernetic monstrosity concocted by the New World Order to act as their war minions and slave class.  I might be, on any other day.  Today though it’s something different.

The correct term for this process, the process of creating new species, is speciation.  It’s what happens when a new branch of evolutionary identity starts to grow away from what’s currently known.  It happens all the time, mind you.  Every form of life on Earth is evolving, always have been, always will be.  In large populations – like the human population, which is somewhere near 7.3 billion people as you read this – speciation is rare.  In fact, the human population is undergoing pretty much the opposite of speciation right now.  We intermingle and breed across diverse genetic groups, and this has the effect of homogenizing our collective gene pool.  In terms of the health of our species as a whole, this is a favourable thing.  It creates gene lines with diverse origins, and tends to promote the most successful genetic traits that our various races maintain.

I’m sure you’ve seen the picture of the beautiful Mediterranean woman, with the golden brown skin and incredible green eyes, whom scientists claim embodies the typical human female appearance in several hundred years.  That picture is the product of statistical analysis based on common phenotypes and diversity trends from around the planet.  Eventually, Homo sapiens will sport a typically brownish skin colour, will maintain certain height and weight ratios, and will have predominantly greenish eye colour.  That isn’t to say that lighter or darker skin colours won’t exist, or that brown or blue eyes will be unheard of, it just means that on average, those traits will become rarer over time.

As mentioned, speciation is almost the exact opposite.  It’s what happens when part of a population becomes separated and isolated from the rest.  Over time, the two groups will evolve in different directions.  This is because the new mutations that appear in each group with each new generation aren’t shared between them, and thus they take distinctly different paths from the point of separation.  If, at some time in the future, they again come into contact with the other group, they can again begin to diversify their genetic identity, as long as they haven’t been separated for so long that they’re no longer genetically compatible for mating purposes.  When that happens, it’s considered that a new species has emerged.

This happens all the time, and has happened since the first single celled organism came into being a couple billion years ago.  It’s easiest to see in populations of animals that we’ve bred for specific characteristics, such as dogs, cattle, chickens, and even in wheat and corn.  In the case of dogs for example, at some point in our past, once an advantageous relationship had been formed between wolves and man, the men started selecting pups from litters that had the best chance of having the most desirable traits.  Eventually, the humans began limiting the opportunity to breed to only the animals that showed those characteristics, which gave those animals (and their genes) a better chance at survival.  In time, the humans had bred an entirely new species of canine, the dog.  It was distinctly different from the wolf, both in appearance and behaviour, and through continued selective breeding ultimately became what we know as the hundreds of different dog breeds there are today.

In the case of dogs, however, that separation or isolation I mentioned that’s necessary for speciation wasn’t a physical barrier or great space between the animals.  It was the humans actively selecting for desirable traits.  So some cross-breeding did occur between the parent species of wolf and the modern dog (and still does today), so while domesticated dogs are considered a unique species, they aren’t so different from wolves that they’re genetically incompatible.  This fact is why we have some breeds of dog that aren’t readily identifiable to the layman; we call them mutts, usually.  These dogs are the product of genetic diversification among the many breeds alive today, and are another example of the homogenization of genetic traits in large populations.

As I said, the key part of this process is the separation of the two breeding populations.  It needn’t be a physical barrier, a large distance is often all it takes for the speciation process to begin.  All one needs to do is look at the striking variety of Galapagos finches, as Charles Darwin did, to see that even short distances, combined with unique evolutionary selection pressures is enough to start the ball rolling.

And this brings me to the precipice we humans seem to be standing on.

I suspect there isn’t a single person reading this who isn’t aware that NASA and other space agencies around the world are planning a manned mission to Mars.  If you weren’t aware of that, well you are now.  That mission is exciting and holds much potential for scientific advancement, as well as the sheer thrill of achieving something, as a species, that’s never been done, and was long thought completely impossible.  Interplanetary travel!  Incredible!

Mars One, whose mission is to “establish a human settlement on Mars”, is largely thought by experts and non-experts to be a one-way-mission.  That is, those who are selected to go will not be returning to Earth.  In other words, it’s a suicide mission, albeit a scientifically fruitful one.  At this point, we don’t really know how long or how successfully those lucky (or unlucky) astronauts will be able to survive on the surface of the red planet, though I don’t think there’s anyone betting on them becoming a permanent Martian colony.  That doesn’t mean we won’t get to that point eventually, it’s just that these first pioneers of deep-space travel aren’t likely to survive beyond their own lifetimes, however long that may be.

But here’s the interesting bit; if they do manage to survive indefinitely, or more likely, when we send another crew to establish a permanent colony in the future, those people will effectively become Martians.  Their home will be Mars, not Earth.  If/when those people begin to breed on the Martian surface, in what can only be described as an alien atmosphere, with drastically different values for gravity, oxygen, CO2, UV radiation, visible light radiation and a hundred other variables, their offspring will live their entire lives in an environment that applies such drastically different evolutionary selection pressures that there’s no telling how they might end up.  And given enough time, say 50 generations, perhaps more, the sons and daughters of the first Martian settlers will no longer be human.  Given the vast distance between the planets, the likelihood that physical contact between worlds will be extremely rare, and the enormous difference in selection pressures in that environment, establishing a settlement on Mars is not akin to colonising another planet, but rather splitting humanity into two distinct, and eventually, two genetically incompatible groups…or species.

I won’t dare to tell you whether the above is a desirable outcome or not, for I’m very much undecided myself.  It invokes visions of interplanetary war, exotic Martian diseases, and the emergence of new space-cultures so alien to us now that our imaginations are utterly incapable of envisioning them.  Though I do wish I could look into the future and get a glimpse of our Homo martis neighbours.

Editor - Author
  1. Martians
    The assumptions in this article are dubious. Indeed, the idea that “physical contact between worlds will be extremely rare” is frankly ridiculous. Eighteenth-century writers could have said the same of Australia, for instance. Technological progress, especially in the field of propulsion, will make physical contact as easy as sailing across the Atlantic, which has hardly been a barrier since 1492. Two other points: even now, it is possible to transmit genetic information over the internet, and the first synthetic bacterium has already been built from scratch. How difficult would it be to create human gametes from transmitted information? The article also fails to take into account the impact of genetic engineering. One of the main problems with modern humans is that they are too big. The world could support a population twice the size if the average person had only half the mass. Smaller people are better suited to a far wider range of gravitational conditions (a mouse can survive far higher accelerations than a human being), and their life-support requirements, in terms of consumables, are far smaller. These space-faring posthumans will not be limited to Mars; they will be spread across the solar system and perhaps beyond, although they may co-exist with “natural” humans, limited perhaps to a narrow terrestrial existence.

    1. Your level of optimism
      Your level of optimism regarding the development of space travel, propulsion, and fuel is obviously far higher than mine, and your own ideas about this genetic engineering are, frankly, far more dubious than my “assumptions”. I’d say that it’s ridiculous to think that technology “will make physical contact as easy as sailing across the Atlantic” withing 50 generations, but I’m not one to criticize others for simply offering an idea.

      The fact that speciation will occur when/if a group of humans permanently splits away from the terrestrial population isn’t in question. It will happen, and faster than you seem to think is reasonable. How it’s dealt with is of course well up in the air. I can’t for the life of me understand why you think transmitting genetic information digitally would be viable or necessary.

  2. Excellent post! It is very
    Excellent post! It is very difficult, if not impossible to predict any evolutionary directions of any species, especially humans, because due to our technology, natural selection is slowed down to say the least. Nonetheless, given enough time and isolation, it is practically a sure bet that speciation will occur. I’d say though, that it will take more than 50 generations, but that is just a guess on my part. I too wish I could see our future to see the next species of humans. Well done!

  3. Mars and speciation
    You’ve brought up a number of interesting points.

    “Your level of optimism regarding the development of space travel, propulsion, and fuel is obviously far higher than mine”.

    “I’d say that it’s ridiculous to think that technology will make physical contact as easy as sailing across the Atlantic within 50 generations”.

    I’d say fifty years, not generations: there are at least three technologies on the horizon which could get us to Mars in a matter of weeks:

    – Mini-Magnetospheric Plasma Propulsion
    – VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket).
    – Pulsed fusion

    Let’s continue the comparison with sailing: a typical modern sloop can cross from Europe to the Caribbean (4,000 miles) in less than a month, while a fast catamaran can do it in about two weeks. Yet the entire globe was explored and settled using the more primitive technologies of earlier centuries. Starting in about 3000 BC, the Polynesians settled the entire Pacific, maintaining only occasional contact between the various islands, many of which have remained isolated for far more than your 50 generations; yet no speciation event has occurred.

    “Your own ideas about this genetic engineering are, frankly, far more dubious than my assumptions”.

    “I can’t for the life of me understand why you think transmitting genetic information digitally would be viable or necessary”.

    It will be both viable and necessary for two reasons: isolated populations which are not regularly exposed to pathogens lose their immunity remarkably quickly. For example, scientists who winter in the Antarctic often get sick as soon as the first supply aircraft arrives in the spring, and the fate of the indigenous Americans provides yet another lesson. This will also be a problem on Mars, and the simplest solution would be to transmit the biological blueprints of vaccines, antibodies or (why not?) even the pathogens themselves; a cold or a norovirus may be a nuisance, but it is not often fatal; unless you have no immunity.

    Secondly, a genetically-viable breeding population should ideally consist of about 10,000 people. That number of Martian immigrants will not be reached very quickly, and the required genetic variation could therefore be transmitted (rather than transported) in order to synthesize human gametes on Mars. As mentioned in my previous post, a bacterium has already been synthesized from scratch, so human cells would not be too much of a stretch on the same fifty-year time-scale.

    We agree that “speciation will occur when/if a group of humans permanently splits away from the terrestrial population”, but I believe that this will be a managed (genetically engineered) event, taking place on a longer time-scale than you imagine.

    (By the way, Mars One is a scam).

  4. Post-human speciation
    I would like to discuss the question of genetic engineering in greater depth.

    One day, if humanity survives, there will be more people living off the Earth than on it, all of them living in artificial ecosystems (unless Mars is terraformed: see “Terraforming Mars Quickly”, by Paul Birch; JBIS vol.45, pp. 331-340, 1992). This begs the question of consumables: food, water, breathable air.
    If people were smaller, their needs would be correspondingly diminished; According to the square-cube law, a human being only three feet (1 meter) high (like Homo Floresiensis, aka the “Hobbit”) consumes approximately one-eighth as much as a six-footer! Natural adaptation to such limits can be seen in insular species such as the fossil pygmy elephants and hippos of the Mediterranean.
    I believe that a similar adaptation in space-faring humans – a speciation event – will be deliberately effected and managed, simply because it is a vital economic imperative. And, as suggested implicitly in my last post, a 1-meter human could live comfortably even in a 2G environment (floating cities among the cloud-tops of Jupiter), thus opening up new lebensraum for (post-)humanity.

  5. Gravity
    As Arthur C. Clarke speculated in several of his novels –including 3001– gravity alone can become an incredibly powerful force of speciation –ironic, considering how it’s one of the weakest forces in physics.

    A man who was born in Mars and spent much of his life there would find traveling to the ‘home world’ of Humankind incredibly taxing. He would feel 3 times heavier, so walking alone would require a great amount of effort –sure, we could invoke exo-skeletons to counter for this problem, but let’s focus on the simple forces of Nature, shall we?

    Ditto with the other humans who end up living in a place completely devoid of gravity –i.e. a space station. Their lower limbs would completely atrophy, unless they choose to generate artificial gravity a-la vintage rotating-donut stations envisioned in the 50’s and 60’s.

    Even Jacques Cousteau envisioned how genetic engineering and advances in subaquatic habitat would produce the coming of ‘Homo Aquaticus’: A human who would live most of his lifetime below the surface of our oceans, playing with dolphins and herding whales. Alas, these future mermaids and mermen would probably not have a great singing voice –although now that I think of it, perhaps it would be for the better 😉

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Mobile menu - fractal