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Project Overview

A Blues for a Red Planet

Mad Yeasts On Mars is a peculiar project, even among the iGEM projects. It started with a kernel of a synthetic biology idea and it has spread in many different directions. It is easy to get lost but do not worry. This overview will give you a general idea of what this project is about and it will guide you through the whole wiki. Keep reading and join the dots with us.

The main objective of this project is to suggest and develop some tools from synthetic biology that could be applied in a terraforming process. In order to know a little bit more about what terraforming is go to Terraforming section. Basically, terraforming is the process of making an environment habitable for life forms, especially human beings (us!). In this case, the scenario we proposed to terraform is, of course, Mars.

So, which synthetic biology tools are you going to develop? And what is going to be their function in a terraforming process?

  1. Prionic Switch implemented in Saccharomices cerevisiae. Hence the title of our project (Mad Yeast On Mars) due to the fact that the mad cows disease is originated by a prion. The function of this switch is regulating Mars temperature by controlling the production of a dark pigment. This pigment (e.g. melanin) can change the albedo of the planet. We call this section of the project Regulating Mars Temperature.
  2. LEA protein expression in Escherichia coli. Its function is to protect the bacteria from extreme martian conditions, especially the extreme martian temperature ranges. The name of this part is Surviving Mars.

It is at this point where Mad Yeasts On Mars project jumps from Synthetic Biology to Engineering. In order to carry out our experiments and to complement them we had to use, design and develop three different technologies or equipments.

  1. The Red-House. Very soon we realized LEA protein protection against martian conditions was not going to be enough so we design and built a planetary incubator device (Green House + Red Planet = Red-House). This device, very related with the Surviving Mars part of our project, uses a renewable source of energy (wind power) to keep cultures warm inside of it.
  2. Mars Simulation Chamber. We used a low pressure chamber in order to simulate the martian atmosphere. Using frozen carbon dioxide we created a very similar martian atmospheric composition. This was absolutely necessary in order to subject our cultures to real martian atmospheric conditions.
  3. Microbial Albedo Recorder. We develop a piece of equipment that could measure the difference between the temperature and albedo of different color yeast cultures (melanin expressing and not expressing yeasts). This device is related with the Regulating Mars Temperature part of our project.

Furthermore, we developed a simple model for our proposal of terraforming process that we call Yeastworld . Our aim in this part of the project is the development of a model which describes how the different phenotypes of yeasts interact with the prion switch dynamics. This way we can see how the system behaves and finally how the stabilization of the planetary temperature is made when the system reaches a steady state.

Finally we carried out a quite lengthy ethical report that covers a variety of issues from environmental ethics, social problems, religious debates and some interviews with researchers about the idea of terraforming and colonizing other worlds.