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DNA Sequencing Microchip - Mars

DNA Sequencing Microchip Could Detect Earth-Like Life on Mars

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A team of scientists have proposed a new method for determining whether life on Earth could have originated on Mars or, in fact, whether Earth could have dispatched life to Mars via a meteorite.

The researchers from MIT, Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a DNA sequencing microchip that is capable of sequencing RNA and DNA – very specific indicators of life – and they want it to be utilised on NASA’s next Mars Rover launch in 2020.

The sequencing tool would enable the investigation of possible origins of life on Mars and Earth. "If there’s life on Mars and it is based on RNA and DNA, you would get not one but many sequences and you’d be able to understand the extent of ‘relativeness’ of any Earth life," said study lead author Christopher Carr, of MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. 

The tool would enable scientists to determine whether it is contamination from Earth, or whether it is actual Martian life, as well as being able to determine how any Mars life is related to Earth life. Some scientists believe that life on Earth and Mars could have become cross-contaminated about 3.5 billion years ago when there was a high number of major asteroid impact events in the solar system.  “If life was around on one planet or the other, it could've hitched a ride and ended up on the other planet”, said Carr.

The conditions on Mars itself are harsher than on Earth - its atmosphere is made up of mostly carbon dioxide and is 100 times thinner than Earth’s. Temperatures on the surface can also plummet to minus 126 degrees Celsius.  But the environment below the Martian surface may be similar to that of our own planet and may hold all the major elements required for life, some scientists say.

By April Holloway

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