Curiosity, humanity’s 2nd robotic Mars explorer has drilled its second hole on mars looking for signs of life (based on chemical analysis of the martian rock samples). Even though Curiosity isn’t able to clearly detect true “life”, this peaked my curiosity (pun intended), what if we found traces of life, not just chemical traces but readable/sequence-able DNA traces of life?
The idea of sequencing, hacking and rebooting Martian DNA isn’t a new one, both Craig Venter (Human Genome Sequencing and Synthetic Life Pioneer) and Jonathan Rothberg (founder of Ion Torrent, a successful sequencing company) have both publicly mused about the potential of booting up Martian DNA here on Earth or an isolated space lab. The challenge isn’t in having a small enough sequencer to boost over to the surface of Mars, that already exists in the form of a USB stick sized genome sequencer from Oxford Nanopore but in having a small and versatile enough robotic platform to prepare the potential DNA sample.
I recently spoke with one of my biotech entrepreneur friends here in Silicon Valley who attended a space symposium and many of the space enthusiasts and investors he spoke with were extremely excited about the potential for space biology but they were struggling to find a killer app that would meld both the tech and biotech worlds. One idea that came to me was building a small, low cost, versatile robotic sequencing platform that could be deployed and tested here on earth in remote environments, perhaps deployed on an open source underwater robot like the OpenROV which can be deployed on a hobbyist’s budget.
So perhaps the first step in hacking and sequencing Martian DNA (if it exists) might be hacking our local and remote Earth bacterial DNA, in the end science wins all around!