Detecting DNA in Space

Christopher Carr, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences is working in collaboration with Gary Ruvkun at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Maria Zuber, the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics and MIT’s vice president for research, to build a DNA sequencer that he hopes will one day be sent to Mars where it can analyze soil and ice samples for traces of DNA and other genetic material.

Recently, Carr and his colleagues have exposed the heart of their tool — a DNA-sequencing microchip — to radiation doses similar to those that might be expected during a robotic expedition to Mars. After exposure to such radiation — including protons and heavy ions of oxygen and iron — the microchip analyzed a test strain of E. coli, successfully identifying its genetic sequence.

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