If the universal flood that ends the planet according to Genesis is anthropogenic climate change, Noah’s Ark should be a gigantic and generational ship capable of saving the human species. But how big does this ship have to be to guarantee our survival as a species on other planets?
Not only the cinema, the Bible and other science fiction novels have addressed the issue. Scientists, anthropologists, philosophers and others have been debating the issue for years without fully agreeing. How big should a ship be to be able to colonize another world without suffering genetic defects?
A group of researchers and architects from Greenwich, Warwick and Surrey created a ‘Cosmic Noah’s Ark’ project in 2011 that continues to debate the id and propose new ideas and projects. In this regard, another recent study by geneticists and archaeologists recalled that the entire human race outside the African continent owes its existence to a single tribe of about 200 individuals who crossed the Red Sea 70,000 years ago. That is, modern homo sapiens comes from a single group of people who managed to cross the Horn of Africa. The rest of the current population share their genes although the current diversity has cost more than 70 millennia.
So, theoretically the continuity of our species with a few units is feasible, but in practice genetic diversity would be seriously compromised if this survival cannot be the result of chance and must settle in an infinitely shorter time and with a tremendously long journey. long and dangerous
It is not just a question of colonizing to survive and avoid the extinction of the human race, but rather of calculating the minimum number so that it does not suffer genetic imbalances that endanger its evolutionary curve and, above all, calculating the number of individuals necessary to maintain our current technological level without having to lose generations in scientific relearning and thus be able to self-manage knowledge.
Anthropologist Cameron Smith, from Portland State University, carried out a MATLAB simulation this year of the different possible scenarios in an interstellar journey destined for the colonization of the nearest habitable planet, on the star Proxima Centauri, more than four years away. light, about 72,000 thousand years of travel with current technology.
The simulation of genetic diversity had as its starting point five different numbers of individuals: from just 150 (as proposed by another concerned anthropologist, John H. Moore) to 40,000. The infinite variables of the trip were reduced by calculating the trajectory of each population ten times, and then averaging the results. At the end of the simulation only the group of 40,000 survived undeterred after 300 years.
Estimate of survival for the different population groups in a supposed colonization | Photo: popularmechanics
Others shoot higher. Charlie Stross, the British science fiction author, says that the number of individuals needed to guarantee our survival and development would be between 1,000 million and 100 million. The equivalent of taking almost the entire active population of Europe, Canada, the United States, Japan, Taiwan and industrialized areas in China on a ship… that is, the population that has historically been more prepared, hierarchical and industrialized. So there would be no re-education problems.
It seems like an exaggeration, but his reasoning is strictly scientific and based on common sense.
Imagine: how many people does it take to build a mid-range car? Suppose we just put a couple of design engineers in our Noah’s Ark who know exactly how to assemble an engine in a chassis with an aerodynamic bodywork? Who would build that engine? ? Who would program the more than ten million lines of code that the electronics of a simple car require?
If you can’t reduce knowledge to simple instructions, you have to take the whole assembly line with you. From wind tunnel engineers to robot screw assemblers who, in turn, assemble motors that, in turn, are assembled in the car. And all of them with experience. The automated assembly line that today produces cars like hotcakes is the result of an industrial development of 100 years of research and thousands of people involved. Any soldier in the assembly army would be as essential as the most qualified engineer in the exclusive development of the model.
A doctor cannot and does not know how to manufacture the medicines he prescribes. A farmer cannot plow the land without a simple hoe. The industry would not survive without the help of all its pawns and without its patents and blueprints being released or open sourced. Part of current knowledge would surely be lost thanks to industrial secrets.
Therefore, the question to be posed in this theory would be which assembly lines or industrialized structures are dispensable to maintain the technological pace of the clone of our civilization without impairing its evolutionary pace. Could we do without the leisure industry at the starting point? ? What about the fashion industry?
In general, any industrial censorship for practical reasons that would preserve the essential technological line would produce, in the long run, a parallel human universe, a new civilization technologically conditioned by its deficiencies. A possibly viable but also unpredictable civilization, capable of self-destruction or degeneration (even more than ours) due to the instability of the system.
The second line of thought, much more practical but also more complicated, tries to calculate the number of individuals necessary to ensure a new civilization but based on their re-education.
If you can reduce and simplify the knowledge into units of learning (and therefore delay and slow down the technological evolution of the new civilization) the individuals of the Ark would be significantly reduced, although its structure would have to be much more hierarchical and militarized.
On the one hand, the wise individuals, the holders of knowledge, the hierarchs, conformers of the government and who make transcendental decisions for the new society: engineers, lawyers, artists, chemists, physicists… On the other hand, the sponge individuals, the laborers of the new system, the students subjugated to knowledge, those who materialized the wisdom of the men of knowledge with their own hands following the instructions without question, a job that could be done by robots that our technology has not yet been able to create. And in a third part and no less important, the soldiers: the units in charge that the wise men exercise as such and the sponge individuals do not learn too much.
For this civilization to survive the liberties of its individuals would be much more restricted at least at its starting point. The necessary individuals would not even reach 1% of the previous structure, but solvency would be much more compromised by internal problems. If each piece does not assume its role, the system would be corrupted. Sponge individuals would leave a supposedly free, fair and predictable society (the current one) to get into a much more hierarchical class gear.
Once we decide the minimum number that guarantees our survival and genetic purity as a species, we will only have solved half the problem. To survive as we know ourselves today, we would also have to take with us what is essential that we would not be able to manufacture with unknown resources and that has allowed us to survive in commensalism for millions of years. The rest of living beings or, at least, a small representation of it.
Here the complicated thing would not be to guarantee the genetic stability of each species, but rather biodiversity, the proportionality so that the general ecosystem survives in harmony and is self-sufficient during the trip and in its settlement. How many mammals would we need? Would a fauna survive without all the insects? Could we do without brussels sprouts?
Today scientists have cataloged some 1.7 million species of animals on the entire planet, but it is estimated that the total number does not fall below five million. All this without counting plants, algae, fungi, viruses and bacteria whose transport we could minimize with seeds, crops, genetic engineering and biotechnology.
Mammals, birds, reptiles and insects alone make up a total of one million species. If we take a couple of each species, we would have two million more individuals on our ship, with all the infrastructure that this entails. A very optimistic calculation, assuming that the trip and settlement did not cause any casualties and that 100% of the individuals reproduced in captivity. Feasible only in the Bible, impossible in a simulation like Cameron Smith’s. multiply.
For this reason, scientists have already thought that the solution is to create a small independent ecosystem that survives in the transport ship. As if the ship were a small lost island in the Pacific with its limited but stable ecosystem that supported the chosen community of humans. A ship that incorporates organic matter into its structure, such as algae and with an artificial floor; that uses solar energy for the production of biofuels and that is, in turn, a sustainable source of food. Almost nothing.