DARPA Genetically Engineering Organisms For Terraforming Mars Into Livable Planet

THe U.S.’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is setting out to engineer organisms that are capable of transforming the red planet from an alien inshospitable environment to an Earth-like planet fit for human survival.

Lets hope the organisms are not some kind of evolved cockroaches.

According to Vice Motherboard, DARPA’s goal of terraforming the Red Planet incorporates plans for warmng up and possibly thickening Mars’ atmosphere, via the planting and growing of photosynthesizing plants, bacteria and algae on the arid planet.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency been investing significantly in genetic engineering and synthetic biology. In 2011 the agency launched a project called the Living Foundries program. It’s stated goal was:

“to apply an engineering framework to biology to harness its use as a technology and drive its advance as a manufacturing platform. In turning biological production into an engineering space where the only limit is the creativity of the designer, Living Foundries aims to enable on-demand production of new and high-value materials, devices and capabilities for the Department of Defense and establish a new manufacturing capability for the United States.”

The 2015 budget for the program raises it’s funding up from $18 to $28 million. Alicia Jackson, deputy director of DARPA’s new Biological Technologies Office speaking at a DARPA-hosted biotech conference, said:

“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.

There are anywhere from 30 million to 30 billion organisms on this Earth. We use two right now for engineering biology,” she said. “I want to use any organism that has properties I want—I want to quickly map it and quickly engineer it. If you look at genome annotation software today, it’s not built to quickly find engineer able systems [and genes]. It’s built to look for an esoteric and interesting thing I can publish an academic paper on.”

DARPA research partners have come up software named DTA GView. It has been called the “Google Maps of genomes,” allowing rapid pinpointing of gene locations in genomes.

“This torrent of genomic data we’re now collecting is awesome, except they sit in databases, where they remain data, not knowledge. Very little genetic information we have is actionable,” Jackson said. “With this, the goal is to, within a day, sequence and find where I can best engineer an organism.”

Illustration: NASA