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Looking for Life on Mars

Astrobiology Magazine's Michael Schirber looks into Harvard Medical School's Gary Ruvkun's Search for Extraterrestrial Genomes project. In that project, Ruvkun and his colleagues are testing the panspermia theory, which says that biological materials can travel through space and initiate life in other locations, such as Mars or the Earth. The researchers have developed a thermocycler that uses 16S ribosomal RNA primers — which they say is likely to be conserved in Martian life as it is in Earth-bound life — to identify and amplify any Martian DNA that is closely related to Earth-based DNA. They plan to field-test the tool in Argentina this year with funding from NASA's Astrobiology Science and Technology Instrument Development program. However, some argue that searching for Martian DNA is premature. "If there were other signs of life, more specifically biomass, I would applaud DNA analysis," adds Norman Pace at University of Colorado, Boulder in the article. "Without even trace target biomass, talking about DNA sequences seems premature to me."