For this project we were asked to research and design around the topic of Synthetic Biology – This being a more recent scientific field, meant more space for creativity around it.

After digging into the methods in which synbio is being used with everyday organisms such as algae, yeast etc. – I eventually came across the idea of exploring synthetic biology to aid us in reaching Mars by designing plants to terraform the landscape.

After watching talks and conferences from TED talk author Stephen Petranek and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, and listening to their ambitious plans of how we can travel there and survive successfully with machinery and expensive technology. This inspired me however, to research more into terraforming as an alternative solution to this, using synthetic biology to alter plants to be able to survive in Mars’ climate. Further research led me to find the extremophile bacteria ‘Dienoccucos Radiodurans’ and ‘Methanococcoides Burtonii’ which attributes would be perfect when combined with our Earth plants, for enduring the radioactive, freezing climate of Mars.

To try begin to represent these Martian designer plants, I used live cactuses to reproduce the natural shape. However, the plaster moulds were too harsh on the natural material and failed. Further exploration with silicone moulds and 3d printing with replicating plant computer drawings led to the ideal shape and consistency I was looking for in my plant designs.

There are three species of these plants, all based on genetically engineered Earth house plants, and each have their own data specifications. I designed a container to house these designer plants, much like a space terrarium, which allowed me to further my experience in glass, plaster and 3d printing. The project was exciting as I could take it in any direction I liked as it was a fairly new field and it also left a lot of space for creativity. All six versions were displayed in my 3rd year exhibition, and I received some fantastic feedback.

The idea is that when the atmosphere is harsh and freezing with high winds – either at night or in Martian winter – the structure of the plant will become rigid and of a red colour. The bacteria’s DNA having been, in theory, genetically engineered into a regular Earth plant, allowing it to withstand the high radioactivity and freezing climate on the surface of Mars. When conditions are of higher temperature or in less exposure, the designer plant will become a soft structure and light pink in colour.

Detailed specifications of the designer Mars plants
More details of the research involved in the project

Copyright of Meghan Foley 2018

Copyright of Meghan Foley 2018