About SETG

Our team is developing an instrument that can isolate, detect, and classify any extant and preserved DNA or RNA-based organism. SETG will test the hypothesis that life on Mars, if it exists, shares a common ancestor with life on Earth.

Motivation

Widespread synthesis of complex organics, including nucleobases and ribose precursors, occurred early in the history of the solar system in the solar nebula. These organics, delivered by comets and meteorites to multiple potentially habitable zones (Earth, Mars, Enceladus, Europa, Titan) may have biased the evolution of life towards utilization of similar informational polymers. Meteoritic exchange might also have produced shared ancestry, most plausible for Earth and Mars.

Science Goals

  • Search for related (Mars) or unrelated (Mars, Ocean Worlds) nucleic acid-based life.
  • Support planetary protection and guard against false positives through the first in situ assessment of forward contamination.

Methodology

We are applying advances in nucleic acid extraction and concentration to enable high-yield isolation of high-purity nucleic acids, followed by nanopore-based detection and single-molecule sequencing. This effort includes stabilization of all reagents. B. subtilis spores are being used to validate detection limits down to 50 cells, with testing to 10 cells. To further assess system performance, we are using synthetic and environmental samples, conducting bench top and field validations, and operating under Mars-like temperature and pressure conditions.