Abstract: Overview of multifaceted efforts to create an unusual “garden” for discovery and growth of astrobiologicals. These efforts involve experiments in regenerative biology, transcriptomics, synthetic “artisan” sea salts created with recovered halophiles, halophilic paleogeomicrobiology, the search for agencies of prokaryotic/eukaryotic radiation resistance and cellular repair, metagenomic investigations of the MIT nuclear reactor primary coolant microbiome, selected reactor core and neutron beam port exposures, MIT cobalt and cesium irradiator experiments, asteroid 6 Hebe, 10,000 ocean models and “seeds”/simulants for life on Mars. Human history details our transition from groups of hunter-gatherers to communities centered on organized agriculture and the introduction and nurturing of unprecedented varieties plants and animals. Agriculture allowed early civilizations to foster art, religion and literature replete with myths and legends about special powers of transformation allowing one kind of living material to become another or, of transformations of inanimate into animate materials and vice versa. The history of art reflects the quest for control over qualities of vitality and function that distinguish life and death. The dream of science and art is a universe full of life. Creation of the first “flowers” for a vast garden planets is a logical continuation of long standing aspirations to bring the whole universe to life.
Summary: I will describe efforts to create organisms that can survive in cold, simulated Martian Brines. Note that I do not currently advocate seeding Mars with terrestrial organisms. Rather, I am coordinating production of experimental model organisms for basic terraforming operations, should prudent implementation of such an approach become a realistic possibility in future. Meanwhile, these organisms may be useful for modeling activities of presumptive life on Mars. Formulae for candidate Martian brines are based on recent spectroscopic analysis of salts present at alleged groundwater seeps (“lineae”) observed by Mars orbiters. These formulae have also been informed by soil analyses carried out by landers and rovers on the Martian surface. Experiments are planned to extend current work in halophilic paleogeomicrobiology in order to recover a range of microorganisms native to ancient terrestrial oceans and atmospheres having chemistry more similar to their ancient Martian counterparts than the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere have today. Fluid handling robots will be used to create several sets of thousands of titrated ocean models. Titrations will also be created with models based on 21st century seawater. These will be used to determine at which point terrestrial halophiles fail to survive in models emulating Martian brines and paleooceans. A principal goal of these experiments is to find relevant genes and use recombinant techniques to modify psychrotrophic halophilic organisms in order to increase their survivability in simulated Martian environments. Primary inclusions in 4.7 billion year old meteoritic salts (ostensively originating from asteroid 6 Hebe) will also be sampled for evidence of biological activity in the primordial planetary nebula that predated formation of Planet Earth. Radiation resistance is an important prerequisite for life on Mars. Accordingly, 1994 experiments are being repeated to isolate organisms from primary reactor coolant, but with new, metagenomic tools. Moreover, I am pursuing experiments with collaborators to find genes for radiation resistance in various vertebrate tissue samples and bacterial cultures exposed to neutron beam ports and the harsh radiative environment of the MIT reactor core. Because gamma ray output at the MIT nuclear reactor is unquantifiable, a set of parallel experiments is being conducted with quantifiable cobalt-60 and cesium-137 irradiators in separate facilities at MIT. 16S PCR, DNA and RNA sequencing will be undertaken in collaboration with George Church Laboratory at Harvard Medical School. Experiments in regenerative biology are being performed in collaboration with James Monaghan’s laboratory at Northeastern University and Ashley Seifert’s laboratory at University of Kentucky.
About Joe Davis
Joe Davis spent most of his early life in the American Deep South. While earning his Creative Arts degree (1973) from Mt Angel College in Oregon, he pioneered sculptural methods in laser carving at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ, University of Cincinnati Medical Center Laser Laboratory and other renowned laboratories. In 1976, Davis signed the first launch services agreement with NASA to fly a payload for the arts on Space Shuttle and in 1980, was the first non-scientist to address Goddard Spaceflight Center’s Engineering Colloquium. He joined MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies in 1981 as a Research Fellow and was appointed Lecturer in Architecture shortly thereafter. In 1986, Davis created the first genetically-engineered work of art and organized the most powerful and lengthily radar signals for extraterrestrial intelligence ever transmitted. In 1989 he created large permanent sculpture, fountain and pedestrian lighting for Kendall Sq. in Cambridge, MA. In the same year Davis joined the laboratory of Alexander Rich at MIT where he is widely regarded to have founded new fields in art and biology. He attached fishing rods and miniscule fish hooks to his microscopes and developed other whimsical instruments that could resolve audio signatures from microorganisms. His “DNA programming languages” for inserting poetic texts and graphics into living organisms are cited in scientific literature. In 2009 Davis transmitted the gene for the most abundant protein on Earth from Arecibo Radar in Puerto Rico to three sun-like stars. In 2010, he joined the laboratory of George Church at Harvard where he is designated “Artist Scientist” In 2011 Davis worked with collaborators to genetically modify silkworms to produce transgenic silks biomineralized with metallic gold. In 2012 he organized an international consortium to sequence the genome of the ancestor of all domestic apples and later, to contain a version of Wikipedia in that same genome.