Synthetic Biology for the Exploration of Extraterrestrial Aerobiology- The “Hell Cell” Toolkit

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Bryce Bajar, Benjamin Geilich, Debha Amatya, Chris Jackson, Jason Hu, Michelle Yu, Julia Borden, Bella Okiddy, Rashmi Sharma, Kendrick Wang, Vishesh Jain, Gabriel Ben-Dor, Aaditya Shidham, Gary Wessel, Joseph Shih, Lynn Rothschild

Stanford-Brown iGEM 2012, United States

Two key components of astrobiology are the questions: “Where do we come from?” and “Are we alone?”. To this end, the exploration of extreme conditions in which life can survive provides insight into the environmental parameters surrounding the origin of life and the potential for life elsewhere. Synthetic biology offers a unique approach to this study, as resistance-conferring pathways in extremophiles can be reconstituted into model organisms such as Escherichia coli to enable further study. A “genetic toolkit” providing resistance to basicity, acidity, desiccation, cold, heat and radiation were isolated from various organisms. These genes were characterized by expression in K12 E. coli and all displayed significant resistance to their respective extreme conditions. This suite of naturally-derived parts were formatted through BioBrick standardization and presented as a component of the synthetic astrobiology project by the 2012 Stanford-Brown iGEM team ( The potential for these parts is large in scope: in addition to offering aid in the study of life’s beginnings, they also serve as a standard means to adjust survivability conditions in cell cultures and progress towards the development of extraterrestrially compatible engineered microbes that can support space exploration and colonization