DARPA Engineering Organisms To Transform Mars Into Earth-Like Planet

WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are looking to create engineered organisms to eventually transform Mars into a more Earth-like planet hospitable to human life.

The DARPA goal of terraforming the Red Planet includes plans to heat up and potentially thicken Mars’ atmosphere by planting and growing green, photosynthesizing plants, bacteria and algae on the barren landscape, Vice Motherboard reports.

In order to allow for human life to not be confined to indoor activities, Mars’ climate and surface would need to undergo drastic changes to avoid its planet-wide dust storms, thin atmosphere and low gravity. Mars is also further from the sun, dropping average temperatures to -122 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NASA data.

But DARPA researchers are optimistic that the slow process can be successful, allowing for the creation of organisms to gradually transform Mars into something more like Earth.

“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,” Alicia Jackson, deputy director of DARPA’s new Biological Technologies Office said Monday at a DARPA-hosted biotech conference, Motherboard reports.

Jackson and fellow DARPA researchers are attempting to ease the process of creating genetically engineered organisms outside of e. coli and yeast – commonly manufactured synthetic biology products.

“There are anywhere from 30 million to 30 billion organisms on this Earth. We use two right now for engineering biology,” said Jackson. “I want to use any organism that has properties I want—I want to quickly map it and quickly engineer it. If you look at genome annotation software today, it’s not built to quickly find engineer able systems [and genes]. It’s built to look for an esoteric and interesting thing I can publish an academic paper on.”

Jackson and its DARPA research partners created a software called DTA GView, dubbed the “Google Maps of genomes,” enabling immediate pinpointing of gene locations in genomes.

“This torrent of genomic data we’re now collecting is awesome, except they sit in databases, where they remain data, not knowledge. Very little genetic information we have is actionable,” she said. “With this, the goal is to, within a day, sequence and find where I can best engineer an organism.”

Testing of the synthetic organism project could be tested here on earth in the wake of a natural or man-made disaster, allowing for analysis of whether they could survive in tough environments and restore themselves to a pre-disaster climate.

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