The hunt for extraterrestrial DNA is on, Technology Review writes:
Two high-profile entrepreneurs say they want to put a DNA sequencing machine on the surface of Mars in a bid to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life.
In what could become a race for the first extraterrestrial genome, researcher J. Craig Venter said Tuesday that his Maryland academic institute and his company, Synthetic Genomics, would develop a machine capable of sequencing and beaming back DNA data from the planet. Separately, Jonathan Rothberg, founder of Ion Torrent, a DNA sequencing company, is collaborating on an effort to equip his company’s “Personal Genome Machine” for a similar task.
Venter said researchers working with him have already begun tests at a Mars-like site in the Mojave Desert. Their goal, he said, is to demonstrate a machine capable of autonomously isolating microbes from soil, sequencing their DNA, and then transmitting the information to a remote computer.
Discovering and sequencing extraterrestrial life would be an immense scientific prize. Sequencing could reveal whether life evolved in similar ways on both Earth and Mars or, perhaps, moved between the planets. During a series of massive space collisions around four billion years ago, the two bodies exchanged about a billion tons of rocks and debris.
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