Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) disclosed this week its plans of terraforming Mars, or changing its atmosphere so it can host human life. DARPA researchers explained that the SF-movie-script-like scenario may soon become reality with help from genetically modified organisms.
The tiny life forms can transform the face of the Red Planet into a more Earth-like environment. Nevertheless, the initial plan of exploring Mars was to send robotic missions to set up bases where humans can later come, live and conduct experiments.
But terraformation can allow them leave their capsules and have a firsthand experience of the Martian surroundings. Yet, terraforming a planet that has a thin atmosphere with 95 percent CO2 composition, is located relatively far from the sun, has incredibly low temperatures at night (about -100 degrees F or -73 C in the equatorial regions) and low gravity may prove a daunting task, even for the U.S. military.
To tweak those features into our advantage, scientists need to design organisms that can survive in the harsh, barren world and also shape it in brand new ways. DARPA is thinking about introducing on the Red Planet genetically modified algae and plants that can gradually warm the planet and even modify its atmosphere.
For this purpose, DARPA said Monday that it laid the foundations of an engineering program that would focus solely on designing the organisms.
“For the first time, we have the technological toolkit to transform not just hostile places here on Earth, but to go into space not just to visit, but to stay,”
said Alicia Jackson, head of the DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, during a biotech assembly.
Dr. Jackson added that her team already holds the “Google Maps of genomes,” a database of genomes scientists may use to in their work. The database allows researchers to gain quick access to millions of genomes of known living organisms, pick the genes that are most suitable to their plans, and mix them in order to create new life forms.
Dr. Jackson also explained that her team chose only two organisms to work on out of up to 30 billion. So, the database comes in handy especially for quick access. In just one day, a biotech engineer can sequence the DNA of an organism and plan how the engineered organism may be like.
But before shipping off to the Red Planet a batch of the GMOs, DARPA said it would test the organisms here on Earth. Jackson explained that those organisms may be released after a disaster such as a nuclear plant explosion and instructed to restore the environment to the initial state.
Image Source: Science Virale