It would take a while to move samples between Mars and the Earth. Craig Venter, though, is working on a digital biological converter that would allow the content of Martian samples to, in essence, be faxed from the Red Plant to the Earth where that information could be placed into a blank cell and "booted up," the New York Times reports.
The Times adds that Venter and a team from his company Synthetic Genomics and NASA tested some of the principles of the idea. Using the Mojave Desert as a proxy for Mars, the team searched for bacterial life there, sequenced it, and sent the sequence to Synthetic Genomics' headquarters in San Diego. Sample preparation and sequencing, which took 26 hours on a desktop machine, took place in a bus outfitted with lab equipment
Chris McKay, from NASA’s Ames Research Center, notes that for the digital biological converter idea to be viable for a mission to Mars, that bus would have to be the size of a shoebox.
And, the Times notes, "all this assumes there is life on Mars to begin with and that it is based on DNA."