By Boris Pavlishchev and Vitaly Radnayev
Prominent US biologist Craig Venter, decoder of the human genome, has suggested sending a DNA sequencing machine to Mars to search for ancient microorganisms. If the machine finds anything there it will decode the genome and send its DNA sequence back to Earth where bioengineers would reconstruct a synthetic Martian gene.
Russian experts welcome the idea and consider it to be a good alternative to costly projects requiring the delivery of soil samples from Mars to our planet.
Mr. Venter believes that searching for life on Mars relying on DNA is much more reliable than using chemical experiments like the one currently carried out by Curiosity rover. He says that his method would help to find even the most exotic forms of life which cannot be searched with the use of traditional methods. DNA is the key to success of the project. This is the way new bacteria are discovered on Earth. Many forms can be detected only by analyzing its DNA.
One of the most complicated tasks is to place a laboratory that would decode genes inside a Martian rover. The process of synthesizing a gene will be even a more challenging task to do as scientists have not yet learned how to get partially synthesized bacteria using genetic chains provided by donor microorganisms. But scientists have been working hard on this lately which means that if any bacteria arrive from Mars on our planet they will be synthesized.
It was recently discovered that it takes a gene about 1.5 million years to break up after an organism’s death. Scientists, however, expect that due to its cold and dry climate conditions the Red Planet could contain ancient genomes aged billions of years since the time when Mars was covered with water and life existed there. If genomes found on Mars and on Earth turn out to be alike this will prove a theory that life originated somewhere in the solar system and was brought to Mars and to Earth by comets.
Scientists hope to invent a machine already dubbed as ‘biological transmitter’ by 2018, when the second stage of the joint Russian-European ExoMars mission is due to begin. The transmitter will be then placed inside a Mars rover.