Scientists To Store DNA On The Moon
Researchers are proposing storing genetic material on the moon, in an effort to safeguard the precious chromosomes from potential annihilation. Over 6.7 million pieces from all of the currently known organisms on our planet could be placed in a “lunar ark”. The material from species of plants, animals and fungi would be held in the moon’s lava tubes to potentially save life, after Earth.
The gene bank – or ark – would be placed within the hollowed-out tunnels and caves, beneath the surface of the moon. Naturally occurring and sculpted by lava more than 3 billion years ago, these areas make for ready-made storage units, and would be powered using the solar panels placed above. The scientists and researchers behind the idea, suggest that storing DNA on the moon would allow for better longevity and safeguarding of the materials.
Why Do Scientists Want To Store DNA On The Moon?
Jekan Thanga, an aerospace engineer, researcher at the University of Arizona and one of the concept’s chief architects said in a statement that “Earth is naturally a volatile environment. As humans, we had a close call about 75,000 years ago with the Toba supervolcanic eruption, which caused a 1,000-year cooling period and, according to some, aligns with an estimated drop in human diversity.”
She went on to highlight the current banks of genetic material being stored across the world. In particular, The Svalbard seed bank, which is currently under threat from rising sea levels. While the vault was created to withstand earthquakes and nuclear war, it was flooded in 2017, due to climate change. This goes to show the wide range of different threats that face the natural world, including human-induced disasters.
Interestingly, the Svalbard bank has a similar structure to the proposed ark on the moon, with abandoned coal mines playing host to the storage of millions of data points. This provides an excellent point of study into testing how well the proposed scheme would work in the tunnels and caves.
DNA Storage Proposal
Presented at the International Conference for Aerospace Experts, Academics, Military Personnel, and Industry Leaders, or IEEE Aerospace Conference, the researchers proposed placing the bank inside the tubes, which span more than 300ft in diameter. Speaking to Courtney Linder of Popular Mechanics, Thanga told the site that “what we envision is taking one of the existing pits — just the opening into the lava tube — and installing an elevator shaft there”.
This would work as the entrance and exit of the facility – with a separate lift for goods. Cryo-preservation modules would then branch off from the main shafts, which would store the materials at -180C for seeds and -195.5C for stem cells.
These low temperatures would make it impossible for humans to practically care for the library of information that would be curated. However, the low temperatures would cause the metals to cold-weld together. Thus, the solution of a supercharged magnetism combined with superconductive materials has been suggested.
When Will We Be Able To Store DNA On The Moon?
Given that we don’t currently have the technology to match the needs of the proposed lunar ark, it may take up to 30 years (or possibly more) before we can realistically start looking at storing genetic materials on the moon. Not to mention that this isn’t exactly a necessity right now, when compared to the more urgent health, tech and science needs of the world, right now.
Of course, if something more imminent were to come along, that’s not to say people wouldn’t immediately be able to focus their energies on this area. “This is a project that would require real urgency to have a lot of people energized enough to go after it,” Thanga said. “I think it could be achieved within 10 to 15 years if needed.”