A group of scientists from McGill University in Montreal is working on a new technique to detect life on other planets, especially Mars. They plan to probe the presence of life on the Red Planet by using techniques currently used to identify microorganisms in the Arctic region.
Recent findings have shown that Mars is somewhat similar to the Arctic in terms of the amount of ice present. The northernmost points of Canada, close to the North Pole, have enough permafrost to vaguely resemble the condition in Mars.
In the study, the scientists used several tools to identify bacterial organisms instantly, without having to take the samples to a laboratory. They used a handheld DNA sequencing device called Oxford nanopore MinION to do this.
It is believed that if the device can be taken to Mars and used there, finding the possibility of bacterial life would become much easier. Dr. Jacqueline Goordial, an author of the study, explained that they conducted the experiment on a site about 900 km from the North Pole to take samples and test their methods, reports Outer Places.
Currently, space agencies like NASA concentrate more on signs of bacteria on the Red Planet or any indication that a form of life once existed there. However, this technique can be implemented to directly sequence life, without resorting to indirect sources.
The development of tiny handheld tools for doing such a complex job gives hope to scientists that the same technology can be taken to Mars easily. The study was published in Frontiers in Microbiotics.
"Successful detection of nucleic acids in Martian permafrost samples would provide unambiguous evidence of life on another world," says Goordial. However, she adds that detection of DNA on the planet is not enough as it may belong to dormant or dead forms as well. It has to be established that the DNA comes from active life.
The team worked together to set up the equipment and carry out the tests smoothly. Now, the focus should be on making the technology easier to use and friendly to unmanned probes, like NASA's Curiosity Rover.
Big companies, includingSpaceX and Boeing, are working to send humans to Mars. Perhaps, if that becomes possible, this technology can be taken there too. After that, earthlings can have a definite answer about the existence of life on Mars.
Check out this video about the Oxford nanopore MinION technology: