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Edits to Endure Space

NASA is exploring altering the DNA of astronauts heading to Mars so that they can endure cosmic radiation, The Times reports.

It notes that the space agency is planning its first manned Mars mission to take place in the 2030s, and there are a number of stumbling blocks to yet overcome, such as how to protect astronauts from high-energy particles. NASA acting chief technologist Douglas Terrier tells the paper that the agency is exploring drugs to fix the damage wrought by cosmic rays, but that it is also considering altering the genes or expression of genes within the astronauts themselves. In particular, The Times says NASA is keeping its eye on a compound dubbed NMN that has been effective in mice as well as looking into ways to make epigenetic modifications to tune up or down the expression of certain genes.

"We're looking at a range of things," Terrier tells The Times. "From drug therapies, and those seem to be quite promising, to more extreme things like epigenetic modification — I think those have a lot of ethical consequences so they're still in the experimental thought stages — all the way to manipulation."