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Short version - some physicists have created a pathway that appears to permit near-instantaneous travel between two distant points. Objects propelled through one side on the correct vector will emerge on the other side immediately. After initial tests with inert objects and recorders, scientists decide to send some life forms through - a mixture of bacteria, plants, and small animals.

When studying the effects on these life forms, what would biologists be looking for? I'd assume things like cancers, infections, and general well-being, but is there anything more specific? How many generations would they want to study to generally agree that travel through the Pathway appears to be safe?

Edited to add:

The specific thing I'm working on (and I realise this is getting close to making it story-specific rather than worldbuilding, which is why I didn't include it at first) is a background document styled as an excerpt from a larger scientific journal, describing the steps that were taken ahead of using this pathway for manned exploration (that document will probably become part of a question of its own shortly). Given some of the, ah...oddities involved in this process, I want it to be clear that we're as sure as we can be that it's not fatal before humans go through.

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  • $\begingroup$ Same as Scotty, use a beagle called Porthos, maybe? $\endgroup$
    – user10945
    Dec 14, 2016 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ What is the opinion of the nations regarding planetary protection? If this were to happen today, a tremendous amount of energy would go into making sure the other side is not affected by our tests. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Dec 14, 2016 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ They have very good control over the positioning of both ends - equipment is needed at each end to create the pathway, so the samples are being passed from one lab to another...for now. $\endgroup$
    – Werrf
    Dec 14, 2016 at 14:56

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We actually have history to guide you, for we as a species have recently developed a new form of transport who's effects on the human body were not understood, which took humans into an unknown environment:

Space Travel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_spaceflight

We started with a TON of unmanned probes with every sensor we could think of. Then we tried more complex life forms (dogs and monkeys) full of sensors, then escalated to humans in ones and twos and threes. The process took decades, but that was mostly because we had to build new rockets for everything.

I would base any hypothetical exploration of your Physics Tube on the space program; I don't think I could come up with a better research plan than two incredibly driven world powers. As stated in another comment, nowadays we worry more about contaminating other environments more than necessarily contaminating ours, so that has to be kept in mind. Safety would also be of higher concern (no plywood chairs in launch capsules) but don't over-estimate the need for confidence in exploration. While I don't think explorers would happily throw themselves into a woodchipper, one constant theme I've heard from astronauts is that they'd made peace with Death before climbing onto that rocket. Anything could happen, anything could go wrong, and they'd have to overcome that hurtle once we got to it.

In other words, once a few complex critters and computers had survived the passage (computers are more likely to be burned out by microscopic misalignments and whatnot, and they CAN be fully debugged on the other side), explorer humans will be champing at the bit to step through.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree that the spirit of adventure would push many to try it, but our society has developed a great aversion to risk, especially considering the cost of lawsuits that could come from something like this. Compare the way that NASA approach to space exploration post-Challenger with the age of sea exploration (Colombus, Magellan, Vasco de Gama, et. al.) $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2016 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewNeely, when you look at the disasters that have happened, they usually come down to bureaucratic error. Simple human error burns out a rocket motor, or causes a computer to crash during the moon landing. But between mission control and the astronauts, they pull through because the massive amount of instrumentation, testing, and sheer testicular fortitude pull through. The big failures depend on the Politburo pushing a launch past engineering warnings, or NASA ignoring engineers and pressurizing a capsule with pure oxygen and wrapping their astronauts in flammables. $\endgroup$
    – Zoey Green
    Dec 15, 2016 at 6:45
  • $\begingroup$ There will always be variables which interact in unanticipated ways (Pure O2 and fire, falling foam hitting heat shielding.) All complex organizations suffer from bureaucratic miscommunication (not hearing the warnings about o-rings and cold, what measurement system a probe is using.) Our nation is much more risk adverse that the bureaucratic desire to not have bad press or get sued overrides the innate human desire to see what is over the next horizon. We have a moral obligation to mitigate risk, we cannot eliminate it and still explore. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2016 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ Pure O2 and fire was warned about months before the pressure test (because that's what it was, just a pressure test, not even a launch!). In addition, engineers had pointed out (the Phillips Report) how dangerous the nylon and other flammables in the compartment were. The three astronauts "jokingly" provided NASA administrators a photo of themselves praying over a model of their capsule. I agree that the public is risk-averse, but the benefits of instantaneous interstellar travel are enough for the government to push hard to step through the Stargate. $\endgroup$
    – Zoey Green
    Dec 15, 2016 at 15:45
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Memory loses are something I would look into. The pathway may be able to transport cells, but can it transport the key to the complex activities running in our brain at all time ?

Worse, I don't see how you would be able to test that on other beings than humans. They can't describe what they feel they have forgotten, sure you can teach a mice something and see if he has forget it afterwards, but will he really forgot that particular thing ?

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  • $\begingroup$ Good one, thanks! I'd imagine if you train a few hundred mice to run a maze, then send a bunch of them through and test them again, you could get a reasonable idea. $\endgroup$
    – Werrf
    Dec 14, 2016 at 14:18
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The first test would be simple survivability test (e.g. Does a living creature survive the transport?) Upon emergence from the other side, the animal is euthanized, and autopsied. The scientists would do an in-depth analysis of blood, tissue, and structures. They would repeat this over and over until they feel confident of what changes taking the trip has on the animal.

Then they would have the animal pass through multiple times and autopsy it. This checks to see if there is a small but cumulative effect on the animal.

They would do this with different animals (rats, monkeys, pigs, dogs, fruit flies, etc.) Each animal approximates humans in some areas better than others. (note on animal testing)

The researchers would keep some animals alive to study long-term effects of passing through. Here they are looking for any differences between a control group and the test animals. Specifically, they will examine the differences in the rates of death, cancer, infectious disease, and chronic disease. They will do blood tests, and look at organ function. They would compare aging, general health. I would expect a trained animals would be kept to see cognitive effects (how fast rats run mazes, etc.)

I would also expect researchers to keep a population of fruit flies to ascertain what lingering effects transference might have on reproduction, fertility and the germ-line (i.e. future generations.) Fruit flies are used because they are small, cheap to keep, well-understood, reproduce quickly, and model human DNA well.

If the tests indicate that the device is safe, humans would then go through. They would be tested extensively.

Of course, external pressures like economics and war tend to shorten the deliberative scientific approach. In cases such as this, testing would still occur but with less repetition, and a shorter time-scale.

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  • $\begingroup$ What kind of long-term effects might they be looking for? Is there a battery of standard signs and checks to look for? If a biologist were trying to summarise their study, what would they be likely to mention specifically? $\endgroup$
    – Werrf
    Dec 14, 2016 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ Everything. They would have two groups. Control and experiment. One group goes through, the other doesn't. Any differences between the groups are noted, such as rates of cancers, heart disease, hormone production, reproduction rates, bone density, blindness, etc. They would repeat this several times. At first, they will look at any gross differences between the groups (what jumps out.) Then they would focus on the microscopic. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2016 at 14:57

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