The success of the human species has been enabled by the continuing breakthroughs in agricultural technology, machines, and techniques that have made food production increasingly reliable and efficient. Throughout the history of farming, we have been quick to modify the species around us, gaining an increasing amount of control over our cultivars.
The technologies we employ to do so, beginning with such breakthroughs as the domestication of wheat around 10,000 BCE, have culminated in the present with new gene-editing tools such as TALENs and CRISPR, which are allowing engineers to micromanage DNA sequences. Used primarily to increase disease resistance in plants, and to influence the chemical makeup of consumable tissues, these techniques can even be used to mimic mutations caused by radiation exposure, but targeted upon precise sections of the genome.
Recently, a team of Chinese researchers edited a strain of wheat that was susceptible to disease from powdery mildew. The solution: simply remove the genes that were repressing defenses against the mildew. Essentially, they deleted the disease from the wheat, without changing anything else, or inserting foreign material (such as the bioluminescent 'glow worm' gene that has been used to isolate gene expression in organisms including sheep).
When described in such terms, these technologies seem to reduce the process of genetic engineering to the functions of a computer game---and sound so painless, in fact, that perhaps we ought to try it on ourselves. While mankind has readily modified other organisms to make them more desirable to us, any attempt to use the same techniques to edit the human genome is implicitly unethical. And while we take the theory of Darwinian evolution to be self-evident, we seem to believe that natural selection does not apply to us.
However, correcting this false assumption doesn't mean we cant remain a few steps ahead of evolution. It would be proactive, in fact, to think the opportunity posed by the prospect of lunar settlement for great new developments in genetic engineering . . . on people.
Among the challenges to lunar agriculture that could be bridged by genetic engineering include the moon's lack of atmosphere, its poor soil, a water supply that is meager by the standards of modern industrial farming, and its slow rotation (a lunar day is approximately equal to 27 earth days, resulting in two weeks of burning sunlight on the moon followed by two weeks of freezing night). All these are factors that make the cultivation of plants on the moon's surfaace illogical. Surely an elaborate system of underground agri-bunkers could be implemented, at excruciating cost, but why not simply skip a step? In the age of lunar settlement, enter the autotrophic human.