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A computer chip to detect life

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posted on Apr, 20 2010 @ 01:09 AM
Now here's something interesting. It's a computer chip being developed to detect alien life:

This Chip Can Sift Martian Soil For Alien DNA

Someday, microfluidics chips like this one might suss out life on Mars. The chip, developed by Gary Ruvkun, a professor of genetics at Harvard University, would ride along on a soil-collecting rover and search for microscopic life within Martian dust.

It will use a combination of buffer solution, detergent and high-frequency sound waves to disrupt the cells, causing any minuscule Martians to release their genetic material. Chemicals in the chip would then amplify the DNA found and label it with fluorescent dyes.

Popular Science

It's only about 3% complete, apparently, but, if this works, it'll definitely be a hell of a lot more efficient then digging the dirt ourselves (if a little unromantic). We can just send this guy out there, let it do it's thing, and then call it back when its finished. If we could integrate it into a self replicating machine, it could also spread to other "potential" planets. But, that's getting a little ahead.

I'm a little unsure about the whole "disrupting the cells" bit, but I guess it would only cause minimum damage. also its really only for micro organisms.

This is, however,assuming that alien genetic code could even be recognized as DNA. who knows what they use up there.

Well my friends, what's your take on this?

also on DVICE

[edit on 4/20/10 by Redajin]

posted on Apr, 21 2010 @ 08:36 PM
I guess no one really has anything too say, huh?

posted on Apr, 22 2010 @ 09:00 AM
I'll jump in! This article caught my attention a little while back because I work with microfluidics, and it is certainly a really cool idea. I think the concept of taking a sample, coercing any biological material out of it and then sending it to a secondary chamber for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is fairly straight forward and probably the best we can engineer currently given the other constraints (size, weight, durability, cost..). In other words it is exactly what I would expect to see if you asked an engineer today to build a "life detector".

My only problem with this concept is that I think it falls short of true brilliance. To start, PCR requires that your reaction chamber contain bits of DNA that you wish to replicate, I think in another article I read that their chamber will contain something like 160 known DNA strings (codons?). To me this is a tragically narrow band of detection and it brings up a huge issue I have with our "search for life". Why do we assume that if we find biological material on Mars it will have this type of similarity to life on Earth? But I guess that is just my idealist side.

To be fair I think this is an excellent first step into a field that is about to explode. Biological detection systems are truly a field of research in themselves, and require the combined effort of a wide range of scientists and engineers. I hope this leads research to build a more flexible and broad detection system. Research like this is fun because it forces engineers to define exactly what life is and how you search for it...

posted on Apr, 22 2010 @ 09:10 PM
reply to post by TheCuriousEngineer

Yes, it is very exciting! It's definitely a jump forward in the right direction. Just think of how much it will boost the 'Search', once perfected. but you are correct, if this is to be used to its full potential, we must let go of this idea that we KNOW what life should and should not be out there. in other words, we have to think more outside of the box.

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