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Evolution in a box

Life always finds a way
  (+3, -1)
(+3, -1)
  [vote for,

I propose an experiment that should allow quicker terraforming of almost any environment.

I'll use mars as an example, although this could be done for any environment that allows survival of almost any imaginable form of bacteria. i.e. it has to be above the freezing temperature of something that can float some form of DNA or RNA sometimes.

First take the best adapted bacteria for the environment. In the case of Mars bacteria that can reproduce better than others in a dry, irradiated, low pressure environment.

Make a habitat for that kind of bacteria. A box with water in it. (somehow keep the water from escaping) The box should also have an eco-system for the bacteria, something that deals with the waste product unless that waste product is oxygen in which case it can be vented and replaced with more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

There should be a huge graduated space between the box and the bare martian soil. Bacteria that evolve to survive a harsher environment get to expand into new space and not have competition for resources.

If the box can maintain a decent environment long enough it's inevitable that working bacteria will find their way out into the martian landscape. Being able to survive and reproduce there they'll set about changing the environment.

Voice, Sep 03 2011

Perhaps someone *has* http://profiles.nlm...s/access/SCBCCP.pdf
[mouseposture, Sep 03 2011]

Partially baked: NASA paper. http://astrobiology...tian-environments-2
NASA already on the case (but simulated, not actually on Mars) [monojohnny, Sep 03 2011]

waterbears............. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tardigrade
[not_morrison_rm, Sep 05 2011]

Earth organisms that could survive and reproduce on Mars http://www.planetar...e-survive-mars.html
[Voice, Sep 27 2013]


       But a load of these on some old MIRV warheads, fire, forget ... [several millenia later] ... retrieve results
fho, Sep 03 2011

       Why not do it the other way'round ? simulate planet <x>'s environment and grow bacteria that can survive there: cheaper.
FlyingToaster, Sep 03 2011

       That, [ft] is an infinitely more sensible idea. I wonder if anyone has tried it? Do we know enough about the Martian environments?
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 03 2011

       // I wonder if anyone has tried it?// <link>
mouseposture, Sep 03 2011

       Yep. One paper, admittedly an old (1978) one, concluded "based upon current information, no environmental model of Mars has been proposed that would preclude growth of terrestrial organisms on the surface of Mars, although the probability of such growth is admittedly small."
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 03 2011

       Question: would it be cheaper to build a virtual model of this and let a supercomputer run through every possible scenario than to actually send a box of bacteria to mars and wait two years for their arrival, only to discover that they ate each other out of sheer boredom only six months into the journey?
Alterother, Sep 04 2011

       Considering that even the much simpler computations required to actually navigate a physical mars probe can harbor unsuspected bugs*, the simulation approach, while cheaper, might also be less accurate. Modeling's fine when it's known that there are no unknown unknowns.   

       *e.g. the notorious Mars Orbiter Imperial/Metric fiasco.   

       The discovery of boredom in bacteria, however, would be worth a Nobel, at least.
mouseposture, Sep 04 2011

       //would it be cheaper to build a virtual model of this and let a supercomputer run through every possible scenario//   

       To kind-of expand on what [mouse] said: part of the cost of building a computer model of something is in making sure that your model gives results that accurately reflect reality. To build a decent model, on the one hand you have to do a load of programming, but on the other hand you have to run a whole bunch of experiments, both in the model and in reality, and check how the results match up.
Wrongfellow, Sep 04 2011

       To expand on what [Wrongfellow] said, biology isn't physics (yet): you'll find a range of opinions on "Are models useful?" with, of course, the theoreticians favoring "yes" and the experimentalists more skeptical. On the question "What are models good for in biology," both experimentalists *and* theoreticians, will agree that "as a cheap substitute for experiments" is not the correct answer.
mouseposture, Sep 05 2011

       //Resistance to UV radiation is difficult to find in Earth's bacteria.//   

       Waterbears? Or was that just radiation in general and not high UV?
not_morrison_rm, Sep 05 2011

       Yeah, I'd agree regarding models in biology. Real systems are very difficult to model in much more than a qualitative way ("if this goes up, this should go down"), and even then they're often wrong.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 05 2011

       Mussolini's short-lived attempt at reviving the Roman Empire wasn't laughable to the people whose countries he conquered. The Ethiopians had an insulting name for the hated invaders, based on their wine rations, issued in 5 deciliter bottles, which, for portability and protection against breakage, were wrapped in straw. A rare surviving example, in the National Museum in Adis Ababa, is labeled //Imperial Metric Fiasco//   

       Better out than in. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
mouseposture, Sep 05 2011

       [+]. While I think this is a good idea, probably the long gradient will be tough to implement. Like, how do you have a near vacuum one end of the box, and atmospheric pressure at the other? You would need a series of interlocks, or something like that. So instead of one continuous gradient, you would have many discrete small environments, that are opened up periodically to exchange bacteria.
AntiQuark, Sep 05 2011

       Activate interlocks! Dynotherms connected! Infracells up! Megathrusters are GO!!   

CyberCod, Sep 07 2011

       //how do you have a near vacuum one end of the box, and atmospheric pressure at the other?//   

       Put it in a really, really, really fast centrifuge?
Wrongfellow, Sep 07 2011

       Or wait a really, really long time.
mouseposture, Sep 07 2011

       Or use a really, really tall box?
Wrongfellow, Sep 08 2011

       How about instead of a box with all that stuff we use a continent, because it has all that stuff. Like the dry Antarctic. Instead of a huge graduated space we use an ocean, because its huger, and it is also already here.
bungston, Sep 08 2011

       // Mussolini's short-lived attempt at reviving the Roman Empire wasn't laughable to the people whose countries he conquered. //   

       It wasn't that funny to the majority of Italians, for that matter. It's hard to laugh when you're starving to death.
Alterother, Sep 13 2011

       You'd probably want to start with lichens rather than bacteria.   

       Yes, it's a symbiotic organism, which means both have to evolve, but it's already adapted for harsh conditions, and it's photosynthetic, so it would move towards creating an oxygen atmosphere.
MechE, Sep 27 2013


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