Could we turn Mars into Earth 2.0? Darpa is working on designer organisms to terraform the red planet

  • Virginia-based Darpa revealed the development this week
  • They are creating a ‘technological toolkit’ to transform hostile places
  • It will involve genetically engineering a wide variety of organisms
  • These could be used to make places like Mars suitable for humans 

Modifying a planet’s atmosphere to make it habitable for humans could soon be a possibility, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Darpa has announced it is developing terraforming technology in a bid to recreate the conditions needed for live to thrive. It would see a number of organisms introduced to the Martian environment, making regions on the surface suitable for humans.

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Virginia-based Darpa revealed the development this week. They are creating a ‘technological toolkit’ to transform hostile places. It will involve genetically engineering a wide variety of organisms. These could be used to make places like Mars suitable for humans. Shown is an artist’s impression of a terraformed Mars


Alicia Jackson, the deputy director of Darpa’s Biological Technologies Office in Virginia, made comments alluding to the technology at a biotech conference on Monday. ‘For the first time, we have the technological toolkit to transform not just hostile places here on Earth, but to go into space not just to visit, but to stay,’ she was quoted as saying by Motherboard. This ‘toolkit’ will involve genetically engineering organisms of all types, of which there are up to 30 billion on Earth. On Earth, most synthetic biology projects use just two at the moment – e. coli and yeast. ‘I want to use any organism that has properties I want – I want to quickly map it and quickly engineer it,’ Jackson continued. A newly developed software called DTA GView, dubbed the ‘Google Maps of genomes,’ will help scientists correlate information on organisms. And the ultimate goal is to choose organisms with specific genes to create something with certain characteristics.

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‘For the first time, we have the technological toolkit to transform not just hostile places here on Earth, but to go into space not just to visit, but to stay,’ Alicia Jackson, the deputy director of Darpa’s Biological Technologies Office in Virginia, was quoted as saying. Shown is an illustration of a possible future Martian colony


For example, it has been theorised that some could be bio-engineered to pull certain gases out of the Martian atmosphere – like carbon dioxide – and create nitrogen and oxygen. Both are abundant in Earth’s atmosphere – and would be needed for any humans hoping to breathe on Mars without a spacesuit. Nasa has toyed with the idea before; last year, they unveiled the Mars Ecopoiesis Test Bed concept, which would create ecosystems capable of supporting life within biodomes on Mars. But Darpa’s technology would creative liveable environments outside in the open air on the Martian surface. The technology has other uses, too; it could be used to repair an environment on Earth after a manmade or natural disaster, although Darpa did not specify what these could be. Understandably, the technology is likely a long way off. But the revelations do at least reveal that Darpa’s research, some of which remains classified, is considering the possibility of colonising other worlds.

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