First up is The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel About Parallel Universes, the previously unpublished work by Robert A. Heinlein that is a parallel to his 1980 novel, The Number of the Beast. It’s coming to you on March 24, 2020, so reserve your copy right here.
Next up in the good news train is that esteemed author Robert J. Sawyer’s new novel, The Oppenheimer Alternative, is being published by CAEZIK in paperback on June 2 in the United States.
The novel imagines Oppenheimer’s physicists combining forces with Albert Einstein, computing pioneer John von Neumann, and rocket designer Wernher von Braun — the greatest scientific geniuses from the last century racing against time to save our future.
Read an advanced preview here (link opens a PDF) and be the first of your friends to have a peek inside Sawyer’s latest work.
Genetics can be a fascinating thing. What makes our eyes blue instead of brown? Our hair straight versus curly? Sometimes these answers are determined by the genes our parents pass down; some are determined by mutations, the tangible evidence of human evolution in the future.
More often than not, mutations are random, and so many can be negative.
It’s no surprise that most people, when they hear the word “mutation”, attribute a negative connotation to it (which is no surprise, given what we just saw in the video above). However, not all mutations are bad.
For example, if you click on this page, there is a description of four beneficial evolutionary mutations humans have developed. You will find out there is a mutation that lessons heart disease, prevents broken bones, makes you a lot more immune to malaria, or, as quoted below, even gives women–yes, apparently only women–the ability to see the world in more colors.
Most mammals have poor color vision because they have only two kinds of cones, the retinal cells that discriminate different colors of light. Humans, like other primates, have three kinds, the legacy of a past where good color vision for finding ripe, brightly colored fruit was a survival advantage.
The gene for one kind of cone, which responds most strongly to blue, is found on chromosome 7. The two other kinds, which are sensitive to red and green, are both on the X chromosome. Since men have only one X, a mutation which disables either the red or the green gene will produce red-green colorblindness, while women have a backup copy. This explains why this is almost exclusively a male condition.
But here’s a question: What happens if a mutation to the red or the green gene, rather than disabling it,shiftsthe range of colors to which it responds? (The red and green genes arose in just this way, from duplication and divergence of a single ancestral cone gene.)
To a man, this would make no real difference. He’d still have three color receptors, just a different set than the rest of us. But if this happened to one of a woman’s cone genes, she’d have the blue, the red and the green on one X chromosome, and a mutated fourth one on the other… which means she’d have four different color receptors. She would be, like birds and turtles, a natural “tetrachromat”, theoretically capable of discriminating shades of color the rest of us can’t tell apart. (Does this mean she’d see brand-new colors the rest of us could never experience? That’s an open question.)
And we have evidence that just this has happened on rare occasions. Inonestudyof color discrimination, at least one woman showed exactly the results we would expect from a true tetrachromat.
Imagine seeing the world, quite literally, in a different way to most humans on Earth.
There are many other kinds of mutations (including several of the ones listed above), that show us that humans evolution in the future is happening now, that we do to adapt to our climate. The webpost even mentions that certain individuals even have rare mutations that don’t necessarily help themselves, but definitely help others:
While most of us are aware of the eight basic blood types (A, AB, B, and O—each of which can be positive or negative), there are currently 35 known blood group systems, with millions of variations in each system. Blood that doesn’t fall into the ABO system is considered rare, and those who have such blood may find it challenging to locate a compatible donor when in need of a transfusion.
Still, there’s rare blood, and then there’sreallyrare blood. Presently, the most unusual kind of blood is known as “Rh-null.” As its name suggests, it doesn’t contain any antigens in the Rh system. It’s not that uncommon for a person to lack some Rh antigens. For instance, people who don’t have the Rh D antigen have “negative” blood (e.g. A-, B-, or O-). Still, it’s extremely extraordinary for someone to not have a single Rh antigen. It’s so extraordinary, in fact, that researchers have only come across40 or so individualson the planet who have Rh-null blood.
What makes this blood even more interesting is that it totally beats O blood in terms of being a universal donor, since even O-negative blood isn’t always compatible with other types of rare negative blood. Rh-null, however, works with nearly any type of blood. This is because, when receiving a transfusion, our bodies will likely reject any blood that contains antigens we don’t possess. And since Rh-null blood has zero Rh, A, or B antigens, it can be given to practically everyone.
Unfortunately, there are only about nine donors of this blood in the world, so it’s only used in extreme situations. Because of its limited supply and enormous value as a potential lifesaver, some doctors have referred to Rh-null as “golden” blood. In some cases, they’ve even tracked down anonymous donors (a big no-no) to request a sample.
Those who have the Rh-null type undoubtedly have a bittersweet existence. They know that their blood is literally a lifesaver for others with rare blood, yet if they themselves need blood, their options are limited to the donations of only nine people.
So what does this tell us? That we’ve not only evolved from apes (so to speak) to become who we are today, but we’re still evolving to become something else in the future! Maybe we won’t develop mental powers like the mutants depicted in the X-Man franchise, but we already have our very own X-men in real life–and that is pretty darn amazing.
Meet humble Australian James Harrison. Because of his blood, and donating over 1100 times in half a century, this one man’s blood has saved over two million human lives–precious new born lives. He quite literally is a hero.
If you liked this article about human evolution in the future, perhaps you’d be interested in some or our other science-based articles:
While it still seems like such a SF concept, it was proven in August 2015 that you can indeed grow lettuce in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station and consume it. And consume it, Expedition 45 crewmembers Scott Kelly, Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui did!
Fast forward to the most recent phase in the “Veggie” experiment: growth round Veg-03 was started on October 25th, 2016, to test the modified water delivery system, and this time six lettuces were grown simultaneously, under the care of Expedition 50‘s newly minted Space Station Commander Shane Kimbrough.
Yet how do you grow lettuce–indeed, any vegetable–in space when the microgravity means you can’t just “water” the plants? And no, the answer does not requite astronaut feces, such as in The Martian. Instead, it calls for a nifty invention where the seed “wicks” water out of nutrient pillows each seed is attached to and germinated from.
Shane Kimbrough was the first to taste the lettuce grown from the latest growth experiment, using a repetitive harvest technique where only the tops of a selection of leaves are sliced off for him to eat, allowing the lettuce base to grow new leaves for subsequent consumption and science samples to be sent home to be tested. Each growth cycle takes approximately ten days.
“Testing this method on-orbit, after using it on the ground, is very exciting for us,” said Veggie Project Manager Nicole Dufour. “A repetitive harvest allows us to provide more food for both the crew and for science, so it’s a win-win.”
Since then the fifth crop has been harvested on the ISS, by Peggy Whitson, on February 17th, 2017–the first crop of Chinese cabbage ever grown. While most of it will be going back to Earth for scientific study, the crewmembers were able to enjoy some of it. Peggy’s stay on the ISS was extended by three months as she is now Expedition 51‘s Space Station Commander, allowing her to oversea the planting of a second round of Tokyo Bekana Chinese Cabbage, and as of April 3rd, the crew are already seeing sprouts.
So what does this mean for the future of space exploration? Everything. Scientists agree it helps morale and the physical health of the astronauts to be able to consume fresh food while away from Earth. Not only that, but it increases the probability of creating a renewable sustainable food supply while NASA continues to explore the feasibility of humanity moving to Mars, or beyond.
But what about the immediate future?
“I love gardening on Earth, and it is just as fun in space….” Peggy Whitson tweeted in early February. “I just need more room to plant more!”
“These experiments will provide a key piece of the puzzle of how plants adjust their physiology to meet the needs of growing in a place outside their evolutionary experience,” Dr. Paul said. “And the more complete our understanding, the more success we will have in future missions as we take plants with us off planet.”
Now, when I read that quote, why can’t I help but think of The Day of the Triffids? Just how will the plants evolve to cope with microgravity? How will they adapt? With each advancement we make, the science fiction we extrapolate in books really does seem to becoming closer to reality. I can’t wait to find out what the future holds. How about you?
We’ve all heard about the cycle of life before, but have you ever wondered what happens to Earth’s creatures after they’re gone? I’m not talking about their spiritual journey (the theories and multiple beliefs on that alone could generate a year worth of blogs) but rather, what happens to their bodies? How are fossils created?
Yes, you read that correctly. We use the converted remains of once-living organisms in day to day life. In fact, there are many products we use that were derived out of once-living beings, in one form or another. One of the biggest examples of this is fossil fuel (petroleum, coal, and natural gas), but a more fascinating example—at least for me—is chalk. Remarkably, those little white sticks your teacher used to write math and grammar lessons on the blackboard were formed out of compressed skeleton debris from the large numbers of plants that floated in the tropical sea 130-65 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period.
If you could look at the composition of chalk under a magnification of about a thousand, you can see the dried out skeletal carcasses known as coccoliths. They were made out of calcium carbonate (giving the fossil rock its signature white color), which used to be extracted out of the sea water by the then-living plants. When they died, the skeletons fell to the sea bed and was compacted over millions of years to form the chalk rock we see and use today .
Most known as coming from the White Cliffs of Dover, in England, chalk can also be found on the Islands of Mon (Denmark) and Rugen (Germany), as well as along cliffs in Northern Ireland and France. Despite the rarity of the locations it can be found, chalk is still used for a variety of purposes, not the least for writing on blackboards. It was once used to draw those white lines that separated court boundaries in racket sports, such as badminton or tennis. You can find tailors using chalk to outline their designs on fabrics, and its being used in agriculture to treat soils that are too acidic. Mountain climbers or gymnasts still use it to remove perspiration from their hands, and even your toothpaste can have a small amount of chalk in it….
Yes, I know you are stuck on the fact that you brush your teeth with toothpaste that potentially contains the fossilized remains of a prehistoric creature—a very many fossilized creatures—but I will leave you with something else that is food for thought. The name “Cretaceous” is partly derived from the Latin “creta” for chalk, meaning that one of the most significant features of the Cretaceous era was the formation of chalk. What will be the fossil deposits that will define our era? How will the remains of humans be used in millions of years, by the newest inhabitants of Earth?
I’m sure just the thought of that makes you shudder to think about it, yet who ever hesitates to use a piece of chalk? It’s the perfect example of the cycle of life, no matter what belief system you adhere to. Perspective will no doubt be different again in another million or so years.
If you liked this blog post, check out one of our other science articles.