Adapting plants to be survivable on Mars

A pdf of a 2006 presentation updating the work to design plants to survive on Mars [this article was posted on Oct 26, 2006 and has been updated]

Gluthathione Reductase (GOR) from Colwellia psychrerythraea was cloned and overexpressed in E coli and is cold active.

[Times were from a late 2006 timeframe]

They are putting GOR into plants and selecting the transformed plants over the next 10 months.

Develop plants to resist ROS stress under extreme environment of low Oxygen and pressure. This is for the next 3 years

Produce transgenic plants with improved growth and productivity at low temperature and water availability. This is targeted for 5 years time.

Enhance ability for plant to resist and repair radiation damage, 10 years

Collaborate with scientists to use this technology in non-model systems 10-15 years.

The same methods for make plants tough enough to grow on the Moon and Mars can be used to make plants that can grow in the desert. Waterproof sand helps conserve 75% of the water used for irrigation. Genetically engineered plants and waterproof sand can transform the deserts of the world and the lives of people who depend on water and food from currently inhospitable land.


A 2007 BBC Radio interview about work to enable potatoes, tomatoes and even tulips on the Moon and Mars.

The website of the Wendy Boss Lab

Redesigning Plants For Increased Stress Tolerance Using Genes From Extremophiles:

The second major project began with a focus on synthetic biology. The project is funded by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts. Our goal is to redesign plants to withstand increased stress by expressing genes from extremophiles. This is a collaborative project with Dr. Amy Grunden in Microbiology. We have expressed in plants one of three superoxide reductase (SOR) pathway genes from Pyrococcus furiosus. The SOR pathway is a more effective and efficient pathway for removing reactive oxygen species (ROS) than the endogenous, plant pathways and the SOR pathway enzymes are functional over a broad temperature range (4-100 oC). Our hypothesis is that the P. furiosus enzymes will enhance stress tolerance by rapidly removing the ROS. We have shown that P. furiosus superoxide reductase is a functional enzyme in plants and that it is heat stable like the P. furiosus enzyme (Im et al., FEBS Letts 579:5521-5526.
2005). We are currently using the synthetic systems that we have generated to characterize the long term impact of removing the signals generated by ROS. This project included teaching an honors course entitled “Redesigning Life for Mars.” Publicity concerning the project and an interview by Bob McDonald on the CBC radio show “Quirks and Quarks” can be found at the following web sites.

Wendy Boss’s homepage

Amy Grunden’s homepage

Amy Grunden’s publications.

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