We Might Be Martians: The Search for Extra-Terrestrial GenomesMar 27, 2011 – 9:23 AM .READING THIS NOW
Planning on looking at your family tree? If you go back far enough in time, you might discover relatives who used to live on Mars.
While that notion may seem a little far-fetched at first, don't laugh. According to MIT News, many scientists consider that life on Earth may be descended from organisms that arrived here from the red planet by hitching a ride on meteorites.
To try to prove that theory, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard are developing an instrument that may offer some evidence. It's called the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes, or SETG.
Christine Daniloff / MIT News
Scientists hope to determine whether life on Earth originated from organisms that arrived here from Mars by hitching a ride on meteorites. They hope to prove that, in the distant past, the red planet contained life with similar DNA and RNA molecules that are universal in all forms of terrestrial life.Discovering if we're related to past -- or present -- Martian life involves searching for sequences of DNA or RNA molecules that are found on Earth and Mars.
Science generally accepts that both planets had similar climates during the early days of our solar system, promoting the idea that similar kindred forms of life could have developed on our two worlds.
We also know that asteroid impacts on Mars have sent enormous amounts of rock materials hurtling through space and ending up falling on Earth.
So if it can be proved that any microscopic organisms survived the trip between there and here, then we can lay claim to being called Earthlings and Martians.
"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," said MIT research scientist Christopher Carr. "Or if it started here, it could have been transferred to Mars."
Sponsored LinksWhat Carr and his colleagues find most promising is that robotic missions to the red planet in recent years determined that Mars was once teeming with water, among other conditions that could support life. It's also thought that water may still exist there, under the surface.
"On Mars today, the best place to look for life is in the subsurface," Carr said.
While it may take another two years for them to finish the design and testing of their proposed SETG device, the researchers hope it will be included in a future mission to Mars. The plan would be to have it analyze soil samples dug up by a drill, to separate potential organisms, and then to search for genetic sequences similar to those found on Earth.
"We could be related to life on Mars," said Carr. "So we should at least be looking for life on Mars that's related to us."