NASA is working on a prototype drone that will be able to survey Mars from a modest altitude. But what if instead of shipping a drone to Mars, we could just ship small vials of cells, and use them to grow a biodegradable drone on the Red Planet? A team of students from Stanford University, Spelman College, and Brown University created such a drone last summer, which they then entered into the 2014 International Genetically Engineered Machine competition.
Working with Lynn Rothschild, a synthetic biologist at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, the team created a drone composed of biological material from fungi and plants. The material is dead by the time the drone goes airborne, so it won’t form a new fungal colony should it crash.