Synthetic biology solutions for Mars colonization

Llorente B, Williams TC, Goold HD. The Multiplanetary Future of Plant Synthetic Biology. Genes. 2018; 9(7):348.

Even though plans to colonise Mars are progressing rapidly, it is very hard to actually comprehend what a permanent life out there would be like. One can’t help but imagine it to be pretty Earth-centric; we will need to design spaces and resource solutions that provide what we need and use down here, out there. Food will definitely be an issue; sushi is probably off the menu entirely and fresh produce will become a rare and precious commodity. Hydroponic greenhouses, which are already in the testing phase at the International Space Station, are one solution for growing fresh produce on site. The success of these greenhouses, and other Mars-based initiatives, is based on their ability to mimic conditions on Earth. However, maintaining these conditions will be hugely energy-intensive to support, as well as require constant refuelling from Earth, which greatly hinders the feasibility of long-term life on Mars. But like many challenges, sometimes we need to look at the problem from a different angle to find a solution.

It is said that the most innovative and revolutionary ideas are forged at the boundaries of different disciplines of thinking. Perhaps, instead of taking our Earth-based living to Mars, we could design our Earth-based living to be more Martian. When research at the macro, astronomical level meets research at the micro, molecular level, this radical and unrealistic idea starts to get some traction. Synthetic biology, and the designing and reshaping of living organisms, could offer new solutions for these daunting outer space challenges. Recently, three local, Aussie-based synthetic biologists published a paper outlining some of synbio-based solutions for realistically establishing human life on Mars. Briardo Llorente, Thomas Williams, and Hugh Goold, based at Macquarie University in New South Wales, outline some accomplishments in the synbio field that could already offer some solutions, as well as provide new and exciting synbio goals for novel, Mars-focused solutions.