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Self-healing DNA may protect astronauts from killer radiation | Michelle Thaller


So Peter, you ask a really good question about
radiation perhaps being a limiting factor in human exploration. And honestly this is something that people
are working on very hard right now. It is indeed a challenge. The astronauts on the space station are actually
fairly well-protected from radiation. The earth has a liquid metal core that generates
a strong magnetic field around the earth, and amazingly the space station, which is
about 200 miles above us, is still in that protective magnetic field. So when you’re just orbiting the earth on
a space station the astronauts may get slightly higher doses of radiation, but they’re actually
fairly well-protected. What happens if you go beyond the earth’s
magnetic field though is that all of a sudden you’re vulnerable to the radiation of space. And specifically it’s our wonderful friend
the sun—I mean none of us would be here without the energy and the light of the sun,
but the sun actually outputs a lot of high-energy particles and these create high radiation
levels anywhere where there isn’t a protected magnetic field. So for example, if you went to the moon, and
in fact astronauts went to the moon in the 1960s and the 1970s, had there been a very
powerful solar storm when the astronauts were there it may have made them very sick and
might have even killed them. So in some sense it was good luck that when
the astronauts were up on the moon not protected by the earth’s magnetic field the sun was
relatively quiet. However, on a trip to Mars, which might take
months (up to six months), you’re not going to be able to rely just on good luck. There will be solar activity. There will be bursts of high-energy particles
from the sun. So how do you protect astronauts from that? And we’re working on technology—In some
cases it’s a special kind of sleeping bag that you can get into and zip yourself up
and have some protection, other ideas one of the best protectors against radiation is
water. So if you have liquid water tanks on one side
of your spacecraft you might be able to shelter from a solar storm by putting the water tanks
between you and the sun. But if you’re actually going to be living
and working in space for a long time, this really is a problem. If we were to send astronauts to Mars, for
example, they wouldn’t be protected from the radiation unless they could dig under
the ground and actually build their habitats—even just as much as ten feet down would be enough. But that’s hard. The Martian soil is very hard and rocky and
not easy to dig through, and before you could go there you’d have to send construction
equipment to actually build all of these habitats. So we understand that this is a problem. It’s one of the things that is limiting
our exploration of the solar system. The robots that we build that go to Mars,
like the Mars Rover or the spacecraft, there’s one orbiting Jupiter, they have to be extremely
protected and shielded from the radiation of space. In fact our mission to Jupiter right now is
called Juno and the instruments are inside a 700-pound box of almost pure titanium to
protect it from the radiation around Jupiter. Even with that protection we only expect the
instruments to last about two years; the radiation is that intense. So you could not go to visit Jupiter in a
spacecraft and just happily sit there and watch this beautiful planet below you, you’d
be dead in probably something like a day. So this really is a difficulty in sending
astronauts out to the surface of the moon, to Mars, and if we ever do go, beyond. So, what are some of the very, very long-range
ideas? Obviously we’re talking about shielding,
about how we maybe could get astronauts protected under the ground, but there’s even a stranger
ideas that probably won’t come to fruition for centuries even, but they’re still neat
ideas. We are observing some microorganisms that
are very, very good at protecting themselves from radiation. And one of them is my personal favorite animal—I
have like stuffed animal version of this. It’s a tiny, tiny little microscopic animal
called a water bear or a tardigrade. And tardigrades are just little microscopic
animals with six little arms and they live on moss, all they do is suck nutrients off
of moss. That’s all they do. But a single tardigrade could take radiation
levels that would kill a herd of a hundred elephants, this tiny little animal is almost
completely resistant to radiation and its DNA works in a really cool way. Radiation breaks up DNA. It’s one of the reasons you die when there’s
a lot of radiation around, and somehow tardigrade’s DNA knows how to heal itself right back up. So we’re studying how tardigrade DNA works
in the hopes that maybe some day we could even repair radiation damage to human DNA. There was a Star Trek episode, I remember,
where Dr. McCoy gives people a shot to protect them from radiation. Could that someday happen? Well maybe. And we’re going to get there by starting
to look at these microorganisms that are resistant to radiation, figure out how they do it and—could
we do that too? Maybe.

Glenn Chapman

61 Comments

  1. The "Space Force" has probably already solved these problems, since they ve been using Black project funding since the '70 s.

  2. If and when this is possible, that spells the end of certain cancers also.

  3. Oh wow..once people figured out we cant pass the van allen belts..you had to come up with this..but my question is this..how did they protect their selves on their supposed 7 trips to the moon?
    She said 200 miles up radiation starts…all you have to do is listen..
    And pay attention..every speech is filled with hypocritical deception

  4. The answer to what protects us in outer space lies within microscopic animals !
    Just brilliant!

  5. Go Tardigrades! Unite! ๐Ÿ˜€ Good segment, thanks Big Think.

    Perhaps we humans have already begun to adapt to certain levels of radiation right here on our planet, under our atmospheric dome, resulting from the the 2,053 Nuclear Bomb Tests set off since 1945 by seven countries? The US owns 1,032 of those detonations.

    Remember to drink plenty of fluids!

  6. What about generating a magnetic shield (similar to the one the Earth creates) around our spaceships and habitats? Is that feasible?

  7. She is a great science communicator! Glad to see more videos from her.

  8. My grandchildren get to have wolverine powers๐Ÿค—๐Ÿคค

  9. My first thought is that radiation causes many forms of cancer, so isn't this a possible genetic hack that could cure cancer, isn't this obvious?

  10. Oh and its just a coincidence all the craters on the moon are named after jesuit priests and the vatican has the most powerful telescope in the world and its called lucifer..nothing to see here folks
    Google..what is the vaticans telescope called..

  11. Cryptobiosis should be a major CRISPR gene editing idea. Eye wonder what having Tardigrade DNA live inside you would be like. That could help us last any unforeseen circumstance.๐Ÿ––๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ”Š

  12. Can't we create a protective magnetic field for outer space
    for each ship?

  13. Maybe we will just adaptly to it slowly with increased radiation hear on earth first.

  14. This is the reason why what ever alien that comes from outer space to visit will be nothing like a human

  15. Our bodies already have DNA repair mechanisms, however, they make mistakes occasionally. This can lead to various cancers and other problems. Improving them may help, and there are also ways to fix mutations once they have happened to some extent, but we should probably be investing more heavily in things like developing better cancer therapies, and early detection. I have seen people comment things like "yay we landed a rover on Mars can we please cure cancer now?" Ironically until we dramatically improve patient outcome for various mutation based cancers especially for those driven by mutant RAS genes interplanetary colonization will not be viable.

  16. Yeeahh,Michele sure sure the van Allen is the human obstacle,f y to all of NASA

  17. What the hell does this futurist b.s. have to do with science? This video is nothing more than the hopeful predictions of zealots.

  18. The Van Allen belts are there for a reason…The way man has treated this planet, it doesn't deserve to set foot on another one.

  19. So the lesson here is simple….take care of the Earth….it's the only place where we can live.

  20. Harbinger Down had this concept. Then the tardigrades worked together to replicate and turn into monstrosities to kill everyone. Decent B-Movie flick. Her intelligence gives her +30 hot.

  21. Let me ask the obvious question.. How do you know what the earths core is.. As far as anyone truly knows its a chocolate center.. Peeps have been saying and even putting it in school books,, what the interior of the earth is… When in actuality they don't know.. I mean how could they….. And also you are talking about radiation.. But haven't you heard,, its no problem,, they went to the moon and and they didn't even notice any type of radiation… So someone is full of shit..

  22. I like her voice!!! I would totally listen to an entire audiobook if she was the person talking. She has one of those voices you want reading to you.

  23. English is not my main language, and I can understand everything what she said <3. Love science & space, I hope that this tiny thing could make us progress more tho

  24. The actors on the ISS are safely on the ground, the only time they are not is when they are in the swimming pool pretending to do a space walk or in a G Plane pretending to be on the ISS, The woman is full of shit.

  25. "We'll die if we go here or there" Then let's not go here or there. We know LEO is survivable, let's start there. The center of the sun is not survivable ever, so let's not bother going there. The immediate area around Jupiter is extremely hostile, so let's not go there right away.

    Easiest solution is to shield ourselves with a hydrogen-rich material… water. We want water with us for other reasons anyway. Water is very heavy thus it would be monumentally expensive to launch it off the Earth. So source the water from the Moon, comets & asteroids.

  26. Is there any way we can replicate the earth's magnetic field on the spaceships?

  27. If I stick it in your butt what will happen. –> (3:00)
    Are you obsessed with my organism & how big is it? –> (3:46)

  28. What happens to human flesh inside a battery? Scale up a AA battery and then stand inside it. If it is filled with electrons then that could protect a ship from radiation. Be a giant ship surrounded by a giant battery.

  29. If radiation is supposedly such a problem, how did we manage to walk on the Moon using 1960's technology?

  30. APOLLO WAS A HOAX…………NOBODY EVER LEFT EARTH'S ORBIT!!!!!

  31. How much water would be needed to absorb the radiation? Say, a chamber between two walls filled with water, how much distance between the walls would be needed? Also, would the water absorb radioactive isotopes making it unusable for anything else?

  32. MY FATHER WAS CONVICTED OF GRAND LARCENY IN 2014 AND HAD TO SERVE TIME IN MICHIGAN CITY INDIANA. HE WAS KILLED DURING A RIOT FROM A STAB WOUND IN THE NECK.

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