Colonizing Mars could spark new kind of super human species

The human species has significantly evolved during the last two centuries. Our population on Earth has exploded from about one billion to over seven billion people. And we've even changed physically as more humans are taller now than ever before.

But despite all of the natural changes the human species has undergone here on earth, a bigger change looms –- one that's light years away, literally.

Some of the biggest names in science and technology have been calling for the colonization of Mars, including visionaries like SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and physicist Stephen Hawking. They agree that populating other planets could ensure the survival of the human race when the Earth is rendered uninhabitable by a disaster.

RELATED: See photos of the surface of Mars

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Portions of the Martian surface shot by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show many channels from 1 meter to 10 meters wide on a scarp in the Hellas impact basin, in this photograph taken January 14, 2011 and released by NASA March 9, 2011. Scientists have found the first evidence that briny water may flow on the surface of Mars during the planet's summer months, a paper published on Monday showed. Researchers found telltale fingerprints of salts that form only in the presence of water in narrow channels cut into cliff walls throughout the planet's equatorial region. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/Handout FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks on Mars inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water are seen in an image produced by NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of Arizona. Scientists have found the first evidence that briny water may flow on the surface of Mars during the planet's summer months, a paper published on Monday showed. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Handout THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Dark narrow streaks called recurring slope lineae emanating out of the walls of Garni crater on Mars are seen in an image produced by NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of Arizona. Scientists have found the first evidence that briny water may flow on the surface of Mars during the planet's summer months, a paper published on Monday showed. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Handout THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
A circular depression on the surface of Mars is pictured in his image acquired on Jan. 5, 2015 by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), provided by NASA. The spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since March 2006 and completed its 40,000th orbit around Mars on Feb. 7, 2015. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Handout
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity's hole drilled into a rock target, "Cumberland," on Mars on May 19, 2013 is shown in this NASA photo. NASA?s Mars rover Curiosity has found carbon-containing compounds in samples drilled out of an ancient rock, the first definitive detection of organics on the surface of Earth?s neighbor planet, scientists said on Tuesday. REUTERS/NASA/Handout (OUTER SPACE - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is shown in this handout photo released to Reuters July 29, 2014. Opportunity has set a new off-Earth, off-road distance record, logging just over 25 miles (40 km) on the surface of the Red Planet to surpass the old benchmark set in 1973 by a Russian probe on the moon. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State University/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
This image from the right Mast Camera (Mastcam) of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows rough spherical features on the surface of the planet in an area called 'Yellowknife Bay' in this NASA handout released January 15, 2013. These features are interpreted as concretions, implying they formed in water that percolated through pores in the sediment. Spherical concretions have previously been discovered in other rocks on Mars. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Handout (OUTERSPACE - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY ENVIRONMENT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
An image from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the surface of the planet with inclined layering known as cross-bedding in an outcrop called "Shaler" on a scale of a few tenths of a meter, or decimeters (1 decimeter is nearly 4 inches) in this NASA handout released January 15, 2013. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Handout (OUTERSPACE - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY ENVIRONMENT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
The surface of the planet Mars inside Gale's Crater is shown as NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drives toward a flat rock with pale veins that may hold clues to a wet history on the planet in this NASA handout photo released January 15, 2013. If the rock meets rover engineers' approval when Curiosity rolls up to it in coming days, it will become the first to be drilled for a sample during the Mars Science Laboratory mission. REUTERS/NASA/Handout (OUTERSPACE - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY ENVIRONMENT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity appears as a bluish dot near the lower right corner of this enhanced-color view from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter taken on June 27, 2013 and released on July 24, 2013. The rover's tracks are visible extending from the landing site, "Bradbury Landing," in the left half of the scene. Two bright, relatively blue spots surrounded by darker patches are where the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft's landing jets cleared away reddish surface dust at the landing site. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/Handout via Reuters (OUTER SPACE - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
A rock outcrop called Link pops out from a Martian surface in this NASA handout image taken by the 100-millimeter Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover September 2, 2012 and released September 27, 2012. Rounded gravel fragments, or clasts, up to a couple inches (few centimeters) in size are in a matrix of white material. The outcrop characteristics are consistent with a sedimentary conglomerate, or a rock that was formed by the deposition of water and is composed of many smaller rounded rocks cemented together. Scientists enhanced the color in this version to show the Martian scene as it would appear under the lighting conditions we have on Earth, which helps in analyzing the terrain. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
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In an effort to preserve humankind, scientists and engineers are rapidly developing the technology necessary for interplanetary travel to Mars. But that very journey to Mars, scientists say, would likely permanently change human biology, thus, creating a new species.

"As soon as you get into space, we've seen thousands of genes changing their structure. What we've seen now in the last couple years of study is that some of these genes return to their normal state when they return back to Earth, but there are still hundreds that are perturbed," Christopher Maison, an Associate Professor of Computational Genomics in Computational Biomedicine at Cornell University, said Thursday while speaking at the "Evolution Beyond Earth" program held at New York University.

"What people have noticed is actually within minutes of going into space you start to experience lots of changes," Ting Wu, molecular biologist and Genetics Professor at Harvard Medical School, who was also sitting alongside Maison on the panel, added in an interview with AOL News. A lot these changes occur on account of the human's physiological genetic response to space travel, Wu said, as the human body acclimates to the new environment.

SEE ALSO: This is what summer on the Red Planet looks like

Astronauts have faced a range of health impacts during extend periods of time in space, including bone loss, muscle atrophy, kidney stones, and eye problems. And, interestingly enough, when astronauts return to Earth, even when earthly environmental factors force them to then re-acclimate to their birth planet, they still never completely return to their original state prior to entering space.

But the story will change for those who don't return to Earth, more notably, the first group of humans that will colonize Mars.

"Within a few generations you would probably have a more extensive version of what humans would go through in the space station," Wu said, adding that by the second or third generation, we will begin to see alterations in genes as a result of these effects.

RELATED: Most iconic photos in space travel history

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Most iconic photos in space travel history
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Most iconic photos in space travel history
Photograph of the far side of the moon taken by the luna 3 space probe on october 28, 1959. (Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
Earth Rise Viewed From The Moon, The First Photograph Of Earth Taken From The Vicinity Of The Moon, Captured By Lunar Orbiter 1, Aug, 23, 1966. (Photo By Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 03: The American Scientists William Pickering, James Van Allen And Werner Von Braum (From Left To Right) Raising A Replica Of The Explorer Satellite During A Press Conference In Washington, In Which They Announced Its Being Put Into Orbit, On February 3, 1958. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Soviet cosmonaut yuri gagarin, first man in space, in the capsule of vostok 1, april 12, 1961. (Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
Astronaut Edward White in Extravehicular Activity, during the Gemini 4 mission, He spent 21 minutes, outside the capsule (June 3, 1965). (Photo by Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - UNDATED: Large color photograph, 20 by 16 inches, of a nearly nose-on view of the Gemini 7 spacecraft as seen and photographed by Tom Stafford onboard Gemini 6. Part of Gemini 6 is seen in the foreground. INSCRIBED AND SIGNED: 'Gemini 6 & 7, Tom Stafford, Plt, 15 Dec 1965' and additionally signed by WALLY SCHIRRA with 'CDR.' Estimate: $1,000 - 1,500. When Bonhams had their first space sale last year it became the highest-grossing American space history auction ever. On 13th April 2010 Bonhams will be selling more incredible space lots. Timed to coincide with the anniversary of Apollo 13, the sale comprises almost 300 lots including flight plan sheets, emblems, medallions, hardware, models, lunar surface equipment, charts and photographs. Many items come directly from astronauts' own collections. (Photo by Bonhams / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Apollo 1 disaster: a tragedy struck the Apollo 1 mission when a fire inside the space capsule caused the death of all three astronauts (3 weeks before its planned launch) - the exterior of the burned space capsule (Photo by Astro-Graphs/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
376713 15: (FILE PHOTO) The Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle lifts off July 16, 1969 from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex in Florida. The space craft was injected into lunar orbit on July 19 with Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. on board. The 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission is celebrated July 20, 1999. (Photo by NASA/Newsmakers)
NBC NEWS -- Apollo 11 Moon Landing -- Pictured: (l-r) Kinescope images of astronaut Commander Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the moon during the Apollo 11 Space Mission's moon landing for the first time in history on July 21, 1969 (Photo by NBC NewsWire/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1754: US Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, walking on the Moon July 20 1969. Taken during the first Lunar landing of the Apollo 11 space mission by NASA. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Earth Day, first held April 22, 1970, is now celebrated every year by more than a billion people in 180 nations around the world. All work together for the common goal of preserving the Earth and leaving it a better place for the future. This photo of Earth is from 1972. (Photo by NASA/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)
Damaged Apollo 13 Service Module, The Severely Damaged Apollo 13 Service Module (Sm) As Photographed From The Lunar Module/Command Module, An Entire Panel On The Sm Was Blown Away By The Explosion Of An Oxygen Tank. (Photo By Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG
UNITED STATES - MAY 13: Pioneer 11, launched by NASA on 6th April 1973, returned the first close-up pictures of the ringed planet Saturn. The results, although visually spectacular, were rather disappointing from a scientific point of view. The second largest planet in the Solar System, Saturn was first observed through a telescope by Galileo in 1610, but its rings were not identified until 1659, by Christiaan Huygens. It is a gas giant similar in atmospheric composition to Jupiter, and rotates very quickly, causing it to appear oblate (flattened at the poles). The rings are composed of ice and ice-coated dust and rock. Their origin and formation are not precisely understood, but it seems that tidal effects caused by some of Saturn�s moons play a role in maintaining their structure. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 24: This spectacular view of Skylab, clearly showing the sun shield, was taken by the crew of Skylab 4, the last manned mission to the space station, as they returned home. Skylab 4 Astronauts Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson and William Pogue lived aboard Skylab from 16th November 1973 to 8th February 1974 setting what was then a world spaceflight endurance record of 84 days. Skylab was intended to have two solar panels to supply electrical power to the station, but when the station arrived in orbit in 1973, one was found to be missing, while the other had not deployed. The first crew to visit the station made a spacewalk and were able to deploy the panel, restoring power to Skylab. The absence of the missing panel can clearly be seen in this picture. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
21st July 1976: The first colour photograph taken on the surface of the planet Mars, by the Viking 1 probe. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
This dramatic view of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and its surroundings was obtained by Voyager 1 on Feb. 25, 1979. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 13: The age of the Space Shuttle begins with the launch of Columbia on the STS-1 mission. Commander John Young and Pilot Robert Crippen were at the controls. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 29: Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II is seen further away from the confines and safety of his ship than any previous astronaut has ever been. This space first was made possible by the Manned Manuevering Unit or MMU, a nitrogen jet propelled backpack. After a series of test maneuvers inside and above Challenger�s payload bay, McCandless went �free-flying� to a distance of 320 feet away from the Orbiter. This stunning orbital panorama view shows McCandless out there amongst the black and blue of Earth and space. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
IN SPACE: In this NASA handout, a view of nearly 10,000 galaxies are seen in a Hubble Telescope composite photograph released March 9, 2004. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) photograph is a composite of a million one-second exposures and reveals galaxies from the time shortly after the big bang. (Photo by NASA/Getty Images)
Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this sharper global view of Pluto. (The lower right edge of Pluto in this view currently lacks high-resolution color coverage.) The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away from Pluto, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers). That’s twice the resolution of the single-image view captured on July 13 and revealed at the approximate time of New Horizons’ July 14 closest approach. (Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Hale crater, corroborating their original hypothesis that the streaks are indeed formed by liquid water. The blue color seen upslope of the dark streaks are thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (Infrared-Red-Blue/Green(IRB)) false color image (ESP_030570_1440) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5. (Photo by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
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"There is evidence now that an individual organism will be able to pick up on a response or a trait developed by its parent that will be inheritable for generations until the stimulus from which it was created disappears," Wu said.

And the idea of an organism passing down characteristics it has acquired in its lifetime to its offspring -- or Lamarckism -- has scientists speculating colonists on Mars could evolve into a kind of species after years of isolation on the red planet -- where sunlight and gravity are much weaker than on Earth and mutation-causing radiation is more intense, which may result in the bodies of Mars colonists to change entirely.

But, speciation is a long-term process that typically requires reproductive isolation for billions of years, Wu said. "I believe the evolution of a new species on another planet that would be broad enough and extensive to generate a group of people that represents a new species would take a lot longer than a couple generations."

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