Course Blog

Syn Bio… On MARS?!

I’ve been really interested in Elon Musks mission to Mars idea that he spoke about just recently at one of Space X’s conferences. He has an in depth, ambitious plan to get us to Mars within the next 6 years… It’s totally mental, but also a lot sooner than the current 100 year plan that Nasa had predicted. It’s inspired me however, to look at our brief from a different perspective, and think about how to redefine peoples understanding of synthetic biology by using it to make living on Mars in the not so distant future an actual probability.

Its tricky, however, as I’m not a scientist, and don’t want to sound like I’m claiming to be. But I’ve looked into a couple of ways of integrating synbio into creating a ‘better’ living space on the currently uninhabitable climate of Mars. I’ve looked a lot into algae, and its many benefiting factors, and finding that it is the main reason Earth has oxygen in its atmosphere today all started from algae and similar bacteria millions of years ago. I firstly, looked into how we could try reconstructing that on Mars to eventually change its atmosphere to a hospitable and breathable environment. However it turns of that a lack of oxygen isn’t the only factor that makes Mars inhabitable, and going about terraforming Mars would take 1000’s of years… a good long term solution but something to leave to the professionals.

So after more research of other benefits of algae and a couple other types of helpful bacteria – and also a quick read of “The Martian”, which goes into amazing scientific depths of a man stranded and left to live on Mars – I’ve tried to think of other ways that synbio could be of use on a much smaller scale. ¬†Currently I’m considering a couple routes; Could we start terraforming on smaller scales, just small parts of land to create biomes of good climate without the need for machines to create our atmospheres for us? This could lead down to designing algae tanks or photobioreactors to cultivate bacteria. Or instead of trying to purify the air, use it to purify the water extracted from Martian soil?¬†Perhaps then just using algae, or cyanobacteria to act as fertilisers or ‘soil conditioners’ with Martian soil. Now as I OBVIOUSLY don’t have access to Martian soil or really any way of recreating it, it would mainly focus on what the best conditions would be for the specific plants one would need in small areas dedicated to growing crop. So could I design these areas for optimised plant growth? Or could I design a fertilising machine that uses genetically enhanced bacteria? Would that be for adapting to Mars atmosphere or for in biomes?

I need a push in the right direction with this project though. I’m wiling to follow a different microorganism if it would fit the narrative better, its just finding the right approach that is convincing. It’s a crazy narrative to follow, but I like it, and I think it could go some where fun and challenging. Also the fact that it is at first seen as an unrealistic approach, might make it a successful project for redefining people perspective of synthetic biology, and just how much of a change it could make… If a stranded astronaut can make potatoes on Mars – supposedly – why can’t we design a way of starting life on mars the right way, through bacteria?

Here are just some of the websites I’ve used in my research: