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Synthetic Biology In Space: TEDxBeaconStreet (Full Transcript)

Lisa Nip at TEDxBeaconStreet TRANSCRIPT

So there are lands few and far between on Earth itself that are hospitable to humans by any measure, but survive we have. Our primitive ancestors, when they found their homes and livelihood endangered, they dared to make their way into unfamiliar territories in search of better opportunities.

And as the descendants of these explorers, we have their nomadic blood coursing through our own veins. But at the same time, distracted by our bread and circuses and embroiled in the wars that we have waged on each other, it seems that we have forgotten this desire to explore. We, as a species, we’re evolved uniquely for Earth, on Earth, and by Earth, and so content are we with our living conditions that we have grown complacent and just too busy to notice that its resources are finite, and that our Sun’s life is also finite. While Mars and all the movies made in its name have reinvigorated the ethos for space travel, few of us seem to truly realize that our species’ fragile constitution is woefully unprepared for long duration journeys into space. Let us take a trek to your local national forest for a quick reality check.

So just a quick show of hands here: how many of you think you would be able to survive in this lush wilderness for a few days? Well, that’s a lot of you. How about a few weeks? That’s a decent amount. How about a few months? That’s pretty good too. Now, let us imagine that this local national forest experiences an eternal winter. Same questions: how many of you think you would be able to survive for a few days? That’s quite a lot.

How about a few weeks? That’s still a lot more than I would be able to. So for a fun twist, let us imagine that the only source of water available is trapped as frozen blocks miles below the surface. Soil nutrients are so minimal that no vegetation can be found, and of course hardly any atmosphere exists to speak of. Such examples are only a few of the many challenges we would face on a planet like Mars. So how do we steel ourselves for voyages whose destinations are so far removed from a tropical vacation? Will we continuously ship supplies from Planet Earth? Build space elevators, or impossible miles of transport belts that tether your planet of choice to our home planet? And how do we grow things like food that grew up on Earth like us? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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