Synthetic biology for terraformation lessons from mars, earth, and the microbiome

Nuria Conde-Pueyo*, Blai Vidiella, Josep Sardanyés, Miguel Berdugo, Fernando T. Maestre, Victor de Lorenzo, Ricard Solé

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


What is the potential for synthetic biology as a way of engineering, on a large scale, complex ecosystems? Can it be used to change endangered ecological communities and rescue them to prevent their collapse? What are the best strategies for such ecological engineering paths to succeed? Is it possible to create stable, diverse synthetic ecosystems capable of persisting in closed environments? Can synthetic communities be created to thrive on planets different from ours? These and other questions pervade major future developments within synthetic biology. The goal of engineering ecosystems is plagued with all kinds of technological, scientific and ethic problems. In this paper, we consider the requirements for terraformation, i.e., for changing a given environment to make it hospitable to some given class of life forms. Although the standard use of this term involved strategies for planetary terraformation, it has been recently suggested that this approach could be applied to a very different context: ecological communities within our own planet. As discussed here, this includes multiple scales, from the gut microbiome to the entire biosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number14
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Drylands
  • Evolution
  • Hypercycles
  • Mars
  • Microbiome
  • Restoration ecology
  • Synthetic biology
  • Terraformation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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