Developing a Fax Machine to Copy Life on Mars

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J. Craig Venter, the maverick scientist, is looking for a new world to conquer — Mars. He wants to detect life on Mars and bring it to Earth using a device called a digital biological converter, or biological teleporter.

Although the idea conjures up “Star Trek,” the analogy is not exact. The transporter on that program actually moves Captain Kirk from one location to another. Dr. Venter’s machine would merely create a copy of an organism from a distant location — more like a biological fax machine.

Still, Dr. Venter, known for his early sequencing of the human genome and for his bold proclamations, predicts the biological converter will be his next innovation and will be useful on Earth well before it could ever be deployed on the red planet.

The idea behind it, not original to him, is that the genetic code that governs life can be stored in a computer and transmitted just like any other information.

Dr. Venter’s system would determine the sequence of the DNA units in an organism’s genome and transmit that information electronically. At the distant location, the genome would be synthesized — or chemically recreated — inserted into what amounts to a blank cell, and “booted up,” as Mr. Venter puts it. In other words, the inserted DNA would take command of the cell and recreate a copy of the original organism.

Written By: Andrew Pollack
continue to source article at nytimes.com

13 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #1 by Roedy:

      This makes the presumption Martian life uses the same genetic code as life on earth. The first thing on the agenda is to figure out which molecules Martian life uses for genetic encoding.

      I thought the first thing was to establish whether there is any life on Mars at all.

    • In reply to #1 by Roedy:

      This makes the presumption Martian life uses the same genetic code as life on earth. The first thing on the agenda is to figure out which molecules Martian life uses for genetic encoding.

      Unless there has been some life swapping between planets, there is no reason to believe that life on Mars (if any) will be based on DNA.

      • Although life swapping sounds intriguing, I’m not sure the worlds relgions would consider it moral. :-) In reply to #3 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #1 by Roedy:

        This makes the presumption Martian life uses the same genetic code as life on earth. The first thing on the agenda is to figure out which molecules Martian life uses for genetic encoding.

        Unless there has been some life swapping between planets, there is no reason to beli…

        • In reply to #10 by AfraidToDie:

          Although life swapping sounds intriguing, I’m not sure the worlds religions would consider it moral. :-)
          In reply to #3 by Alan4discussion:

          I don’t think any bacteria riding meteors would care what the world’s religions think – It is unlikely that religions existed at all at that early a time!

          Black Beauty rock ‘is oldest chunk of Mars – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25016479 -The meteorite dates to 4.4 billion years ago, a time when Mars was in its infancy

          A rock discovered in the Sahara Desert is the oldest Martian meteorite ever found, scientists believe.

          Earlier research had suggested it was about two billion years old, but new tests indicate the rock actually dates to 4.4 billion years ago.

          The dark and glossy meteorite, nicknamed Black Beauty, would have formed when the Red Planet was in its infancy.

          The research is published in the journal Nature.

          There have of course been more of the same since, and in all probability some landing on Mars which were blasted off Earth!

          There are about 100 Martian meteorites, but almost all of them are younger, dating to between 150 million and 600 million years old.

          They would have fallen to the Earth after asteroid or comet impacts had dislodged them, setting the rocks free to travel through space before eventually crash landing here.

          This particular Martian meteorite, which is formed of five fragments, is much older.

          An earlier analysis of one piece, called NWA 7034, put the age at 2 billion years.

          But this latest research has found that another piece, NWA 7533, dates to 4.4 billion years ago, which suggests that NWA 7034 also must be older.

          The team said it would have formed when the Red Planet was just 100 million years old.

          “It is almost certainly coming from the southern highlands – the cratered terrain that makes up the southern hemisphere of Mars,” said Prof Humayan.

          This would have been a turbulent period of Martian history, when volcanoes were erupting all over the surface.

          • In reply to #12 by Alan4discussion:

            I don’t think any bacteria riding meteors would care what the world’s religions think…

            Er… Alan… it’s supposed to sound like “wife-swapping. ;-)

            Steve

  1. Some scientists suspect DNA- or RNA-based life could exist outside Earth, and any other life in our solar system may be an example thereof. Indeed, amino acids and (I think) nucleotides seem to form in space a lot. I don’t know whether there’s much chance of us finding DNA- or RNA-based Martian life for Venter to copy, although presumably any “we found life” discovery would only be known if we also knew something about the new life’s genetic code (D/RNA-based or otherwise; in the latter case the blank cell idea might need a tweak). I do, however, find it annoying when sci-fi uses DNA as a synonym for “any genetic material aliens might have”, even in contexts where it’s clear their genetic material is very different from ours.

  2. I always assumed the teleporter scanned Captain Kirk, transmitted the scan data, reconstructed him, then destroyed the original.

    I would have expected a buffer big enough to hold a description of Captain Kirk and his clothing and toys, but some episodes suggested otherwise, which did not make sense. You would not want to start destroying him until you were sure the transport were complete.

  3. There have been various claims to use systems to find extra-terrestrial life. I am trying to recall one from quite a long time ago, when a Russian group claimed to have invented a system for detecting life on Mars. The Russian space agency put it out in the desert for a test, and it failed to find life on Earth!

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