Why Mars?

It is a dream for many scientists and innovators to push beyond our own planetary system which has given us the necessary conditions for optimal growth.

Elon Musk once said “Humans need to be a multi-planetary species”

It is said that humans have been roaming Earth for 6 million years...Imagine that...Don’t you think it’s time to start thinking of the possibilities of exploring beyond our hospitable atmosphere?

Nadia Drake once said “Exploring Mars helps scientists learn about momentous shifts in climate that can fundamentally alter planets. It also lets us look for biosignatures, signs that might reveal whether life was abundant in the planet’s past—and if it still exists on Mars today”

Mars is a Probable Life Source

Recently, an international research team led by geophysicist Dr. Brigitte Knapmeyer-Endrun at the University of Cologne’s Institute of Geology and Mineralogy and Dr. Mark Panning at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), discussing the possibilities of life on Mars and how NASA’s Insight mission may hold the key to understanding Mars down to its very core.

Could this become true one day?

The research represents the first time that humanity has been able to start mapping the interior of another planet beyond our own Earth.

What about the Atmosphere?

First of all, Mars is very cold with the average temperature being 80 degrees Fahrenheit -- way below freezing! Mars also has about one-third the gravity of Earth.

Its surface is rocky, with canyons, volcanoes, dry lake beds, and craters all over it. Red dust covers most of its surface. Mars has clouds and wind just like Earth. Tiny dust storms that are tornado-like frequently occur, and large ones can be seen from Earth. Mars’ large storms sometimes cover the entire planet.

Mars harbors a relatively toxic environment in comparison to what we have here on Earth...this is one reason why humans haven’t started colonizing Mars yet.

The Atmosphere on Mars is much thinner than Earth’s. The Red Planet’s atmosphere contains more than 95% carbon dioxide and much less than 1% oxygen. People would not be able to breathe the air on Mars. Such an atmosphere has led to soil with high levels of sodium perchlorate.

This is where we plan to make an impact via the use of our engineered bacteria which will use perchlorate reductase and chlorite dismutase in order to break down these toxins and make the soil viable for vegetative growth.

Challenges we faced initially

1. Bioremediating the soil on Mars without contaminating it with chemicals.

We were faced against many internal and external factors that needed to be thought about thoroughly first before diving deep into the project...

2. Designing and implementing the Biofrag included the likes of its 3D design.

3. Choosing a material for the Biofrag, preferably a biodegradable one

What problem do we plan to solve?

Sodium perchlorate is a toxic chemical found here on Earth with a study from 2001 to 2005 finding that approximately 160 out of 3865 public water supplies had at least one analytical detection of perchlorate at levels ≥4 μg l−1. These 160 systems are located in 26 states in America.

A study published by Wadsworth and Cockell found data showing “that the combined effects of at least three components of the Martian surface, activated by surface photochemistry, render the present-day surface more uninhabitable than previously thought” (Wadsworth, J., Cockell, C.S. Perchlorates on Mars enhance the bacteriocidal effects of UV light. Sci Rep 7, 4662 (2017)

One day we will be able to conquer this problem!

Our team will focus on helping to solve the sodium perchlorate problem on Mars.

Our plan of action to help combat this is through the use of our synergistic Biofrag and Biofrag Isolation Unit design. These will act in tandem to help bioremediate the perchlorate-rich soil on Mars.

Introducing our release hardware - Biofrag & Biofrag Isolation Unit

Our method of release includes using the Biofrag as a housing unit for the plant seed, bacteria, and nutrient medium we will have the bacteria secrete the enzyme perchlorate reductase and chlorite dismutase.

Please give a round of applause for our Biofrag!!!!

This enzyme will be picked up by the plant as it grows out of the Biofrag, the adherence of these enzymes to the plant will help bring it out into the surrounding environment thus facilitating the bioremediation of the surrounding soil. (In theory, yet to be proven).

Project BioREM and Covid-19

At the outset of the 2021 iGEM programme there was plenty of interest from both MTU Kerry and MTU Cork students in joining the first combined MTU iGEM team. Initially, there seemed there may be an issue with numbers and that possibly two teams would be formed from the list of names. It was taken that this number may drop slightly as peoples time and devotions to other studies would take precedence over iGEM and this was seen as numbers reduced to leave team MTU with 14 members when the project decisions started to take place.

During the project decision stage, it became clear that people were hesitant regarding meeting up for the project, especially within lab sessions, whilst the current Covid-19 pandemic was affecting nearly all matters on a global scale. As a result, the team number was depleted as people decided they could commit to such an undertaking in the current circumstances and the team was further reduced to seven members which is how it stands now.

As government advice regarding access to third level institutions changed, it became clearer that Team MTU would struggle to perform laboratory testing during the period when the team would be most available. Staffing restrictions and reduced laboratory access meant the project was seemingly headed for a largely theoretical approach and it was decided in Late September, when lab access was reduced further by the onset of a new academic year, that continuing work would focus on a completely theoretical basis (other than the growth studies that were completed offsite).

While the team was disappointed with the lack of laboratory testing during this project, they do understand that the effort put in, and the theoretical applications of their designs and models still hold significant appeal to those interested in this field. The Biofrag itself has been shown to support growth within it, and the right sponge would provide an ideal environment for bacteria to proliferate thus allowing bioremediation.

Without the constant shadow of Covid-19 over this project, and the devastating effect it had on team numbers, interaction and laboratory access, team MTU’s iGEM contribution could have been far more significant with theories proven and an actual implementable device.


  1. Drake, N., 2021. Why we explore Mars—and what decades of missions have revealed. [online] Science. Available at: [Accessed 20 August 2021].
  2. Griffin, A., 2021. Scientists finally know what’s inside Mars. [online] The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 21 August 2021].
  3. NASA, 2021. Mars. [online] NASA Solar System Exploration. Available at: [Accessed 20 August 2021].
  4. Karimi, G. and Rezaee, R., 2014. Perchlorate. Encyclopedia of Toxicology, [online] pp.791-795. Available at: [Accessed 19 August 2021].
  5. Wadsworth, J., Cockell, C.S. Perchlorates on Mars enhance the bacteriocidal effects of UV light. Sci Rep 7, 4662 (2017).