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Mars Earth Science

Craig Venter Wants To Rebuild Martian Life In Earth Lab 142

Hugh Pickens writes "Karen Kaplan reports in the LA Times that Craig Venter is making plans to send a DNA sequencer to Mars. Assuming there is DNA to be found on the Red Planet – a big assumption, to be sure – the sequencer will decode its DNA, beam it back to Earth, put those genetic instructions into a cell and then boot up a Martian life form in a biosecure lab. Venter's 'biological teleporter' (as he dubbed it) would dig under the surface for samples to sequence. If they find anything, 'it would take only 4.3 minutes to get the Martians back to Earth,' says Venter, founder of Celera Genomics and the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR). 'Now we can rebuild the Martians in a P4 spacesuit lab.' It may sound far-fetched, but the notion of equipping a future Mars rover to sequence the DNA isn't so crazy, and Venter isn't the only one looking for Martian DNA. MIT research scientist Christopher Carr is part of a group that's 'building a a miniature RNA/DNA sequencer to search for life beyond Earth,' according to the MIT website 'The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes.' SETG will test the hypothesis that life on Mars, if it exists, shares a common ancestor with life on Earth. Carr told Tech Review that one of the biggest challenges is shrinking Ion Torrent's 30-kilogram machine down to a mere 3 kg – light enough to fit on a Mars rover."
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Craig Venter Wants To Rebuild Martian Life In Earth Lab

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 20, 2012 @11:40AM (#41714657)

    It is completely ridiculous to think that life on Mars would use "DNA" and even "cells." Both are just coincidences of life on earth. There are an infinity of different ways to encode genetic information and assemble living organisms. Did these people also write the scene in Independence Day where Jeff Goldblum takes over the alien computer with his Mac?

  • DNA Half-life (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 20, 2012 @11:40AM (#41714659)

    Except the half-life of DNA is only 521 years. I don't know, but I would be highly skeptical of there having been life on the planet within that time period.

  • by Dzimas ( 547818 ) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @11:44AM (#41714685)
    Morten et al recently examined DNA in 158 bone fossils and determined the half-life of DNA to be 521 years in their sample. Even if Martian DNA functioned in the same manner, the idea that environmental conditions on Mars were suitable to sustain life as late as the year 1491 is ludicrous. []
  • dumb (Score:4, Insightful)

    by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @11:56AM (#41714769)
    Yeah, with little if any magnetic field and barely any atmosphere so tons of radiation reaching the surface, and an unlikely chance that alien life has DNA as we know it, that sounds like a great idea.
  • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @12:25PM (#41714961) Homepage Journal

    We're not that blind. We can study the chemical fitness of different atoms by looking at the amount of energy it takes them to undergo various chemical reactions versus other counterparts. Silicon, despite science fiction's love for it, is an extremely inflexible atom: it can't form bonds with any of the major non-metals we use (oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, and phosphorus), and it can't form bonds with a number of the coordinating metal ions we use, either. You may say "oh, well, it can just use other stuff and have a big ol' alternative party," but there aren't many alternatives. Carbon is useful not only because it forms many bonds, but because it can form them with these atoms in particular, which are biochemically equivalent to tools. No tools, no catalyst, no enzyme, no metabolism, no life.

    If I were a god-fearing scientist, I would tell you that we live in an experiment designed to see how frequently RNA, DNA, and polypeptide-based life evolves. (And I'm starting to worry I may eventually become one, simply because of how perfectly our biochemistry falls out of the periodic table. If there is an alternative way of doing things, it's not something obvious like swapping out one chemical.)

  • by StripedCow ( 776465 ) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @03:39PM (#41716253)

    If I were a god-fearing scientist, I would tell you that we live in an experiment designed to see how frequently RNA, DNA, and polypeptide-based life evolves.

    Nah, the experiment is about creating silicon life. The hydrogens, carbons, nitrogens, oxygens and phosphors are merely catalysts.

  • by Velex ( 120469 ) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @06:33PM (#41717445) Journal

    You'll also note that if things didn't work out so perfectly, you wouldn't be here to invent god.

    How did god evolve? Where did god come from? Why does god exist? Watches don't self-assemble or evolve from grandfather clocks; a watch implies a watchmaker. A being with the power to precisely calculate an asymmetrical space-time manifold where physical laws can come into being that allow something like stars and galaxies to even work must be much more complex than a watch. Who is god's watchmaker?

    But as we know it was probably four elephants on the back of a turtle, and then it's a sequence of turtles, each more elaborate than the last to be the watchmaker for the next turtle.

    Religion is fun and all until somebody gets hurt. I don't know where things are going with the religious right, but just keep in mind that if religion tells you that the only way to avoid hell and go to heaven is to kill somebody like me, that person might just be carrying concealed.

    Probably best to stick to the real world. Fewer people get killed and fewer families get torn apart when there aren't sky wizards involved.

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger