What if humans had gills and could breathe underwater just like fish?

Just how cool would it be to swim alongside dolphins and sea turtles for as long as you want. Would breathing underwater mean we could finally explore all of Earth’s waters? Would we give up this terrestrial life and move to the bottom of the sea?Maybe we’d see how polluted our oceans are and clean them up?

Humans for sure aren’t qualified for aquatic living. How long can you hold your breath?

If you’re not a professional freediver, and don’t belong to the Bajau people, who can stay underwater for up to 13 minutes, then you can probably only hold your breath around 2 minutes. But with no practice, it’s likely you’d want to give up after just 30 seconds.
For humans, oxygen is essential – it helps your body cells create energy. On average, we inhale oxygen 16 times a minute.

If only we could take a deep breath underwater… Our lives would never be the same! Or would they?

Turns out, just having the ability to pull oxygen out of the water wouldn’t be enough to turn you into a full-time aquatic resident.

Why? Because if you aimed for deep ocean, you’d suffer from hypothermia. That’s when your body temperature falls below 35°C (95°F). Your heart and your nervous system malfunction and your organs are on their way to complete failure. You couldn’t survive in cold water longer than 90 minutes.

But what if you didn’t go that deep? Could you settle down near the surface?

Well, when we said our bodies aren’t quite suitable for living underwater, we didn’t just mean breathing. Not only do we not have enough body hair or fat to warm us up in cold water and prevent hypothermia, but also we lack flippers.

Of course, you can buy a pair of these, but let’s be honest – our limbs aren’t too efficient when it comes to swimming.

Also, our eyes aren’t adapted to see underwater. But if you weren’t near the coral reefs, there wouldn’t be much to see anyway. Expect 24 hours of darkness. Partly muddy. You’d need to learn sign-language, as you wouldn’t be able to say a thing – not after your lungs filled up with water – there would be nothing to make your vocal cords work.

Forget about text messaging. In fact, forget about any electronics that aren’t water-resistant. If you ever dropped your phone in a pool, you know that it just wouldn’t work. Plus, where would you charge things?

And just imagine having your dinner served underwater. Ever tried eating pasta at the bottom of the sea?

Gills wouldn’t let us move underwater, but they’d help us in many other ways. Underwater construction would be much safer. Falling off of a skyscraper in the ocean wouldn’t kill you.

We might switch to a new public transportation system – underwater subway. The rushing waters would take you to your destination – no greenhouse gases emitted! Just don’t forget your neoprene jumpsuit to keep you warm.

On these underwater commutes, we’d see how polluted our oceans are. Sooner or later, we’d start cleaning up all the plastic we’ve been throwing into the oceans, and all the chemicals we dumped in there.

Saltwater agriculture would bring farming to a new level. We’d start growing a lot of salt-tolerant crops – quinoa, beets, dates, sea kale to feed ourselves, and other plants like widgeon grass to feed fish and shrimp.

Gills would, in fact, would change our lives. Maybe one day, with the magic of bioengineering, we’ll be able to take that deep breath deep underwater. What do you think? Leave your comments below. And stay tuned for your new hypothetical adventure.


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