In the near future, we will finally set foot on our neighbour planet Mars. The soil, however, is highly toxic, which makes agriculture problematic. Luckily, the bacteria of the Leiden iGEM team will be able to detoxify the soil and even produce oxygen out of it!
Almost 47 years ago, Neil Armstrong spoke his famous words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. The first man on the moon was a fact. Since then, scientist from all around the world are trying to put the first man on Mars. However, before this is even possible, an important obstacle needs to be overcome: 0.5 - 1% of all mars soil contains the, for humans, very toxic perchlorate (ClO 4 - ). This perchlorate is toxic for humans because it disrupts iodine uptake by the thyroid gland, thereby interfering with our overall metabolism. This would mean that, once humans are able to go to Mars, it isn’t even possible to survive there for long. Luckily, we have found a solution. Like the beginning of life on earth, bacteria can possibly be the beginning of life on Mars. By transferring eight genes to an E.coli bacterium, we will engineer a system that is capable of turning perchlorate in non-toxic chloride ions and oxygen. This way we will not only detoxify the soil, but also produce oxygen, which is fundamental for human life.
Possibly, the small step made with these bacteria, can be a great leap for mankind.
To fund the project a crowdfunding campaign was launched. The promotional video for this campaign summarizes our project quite well and is included below.