Men AND women might both be from Mars

MIT researchers work on device that could theoretically link DNA from Mars and Earth

nasa mars lab concept
A device being developed by MIT researchers and could fly on a future spaceship to Mars might settle the potentially explosive theory that all life on Earth is descended from organisms that originated on the red planet.

According to the scientists, the device, known as the  Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes (SETG), would take samples of Martian soil from below the planet's surface and isolate any living microbes that might be present, or microbial remnants.  It would then separate the genetic material in order to use standard biochemical techniques to search for signs of particular genetic sequences that are nearly universal among all known life forms, the researchers stated.

More on Mars: 15 reasons why Mars is one hot, hot, hot planet

The researchers say that it could take two more years to complete the design and testing of a prototype SETG device. Mind you, the proposed instrument has not yet been selected for any upcoming Mars mission, a future mission with a lander or rover equipped with a drill could potentially carry the instrument, researchers stated.

"It's a long shot, but if we go to Mars and find life that's related to us, we could have originated on Mars. Or if it started here, it could have been transferred to Mars." Either way, "we could be related to life on Mars. So we should at least be looking for life on Mars that's related to us," stated MIT research scientist Christopher Carr in a release.

The theory goes that all life on Earth could be descended from organisms that originated on Mars and were carried here aboard meteorites.  According to the researchers the theory is based on several facts including:

  • in the early days of the solar system, the climates on Mars and the Earth were much more similar than they are now, so life that took hold on one planet could presumably have survived on the other.
  • an estimated one billion tons of rock have traveled from Mars to Earth, blasted loose by asteroid impacts and then traveling through interplanetary space before striking Earth's surface.
  • microbes have been shown to be capable of surviving the initial shock of such an impact, and there is some evidence they could also survive the thousands of years of transit through space before arriving at another planet.

"It is not implausible that life on Mars will be related to life on Earth and therefore share a common genetics. In any case it would be important to test this hypothesis," stated Christopher McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA-Ames Research Center who specializes in research related to the possibility of life on Mars. "From an astronaut health and safety point of view and from a return-sample point of view, there is more to worry about if there are organisms closely related to us on Mars, since a microbe that is similar is much more likely to be infectious to terrestrial life forms than would a totally alien microbe -- so it is very important to be able to detect such life forms if they are present on Mars. In addition, this method could also detect any biological contamination on Mars that has been brought by spacecraft from Earth."

Carr, MIT postdoctoral associate Clarissa Lui, Maria Zuber, head of MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and Gary Ruvkun, a molecular biologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, came up SETG and the group presented a paper on SETG at the recent IEEE Aerospace Conference.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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