Synthetic biology has the potential to make organisms more resistant to radiation or temperature extremes,” she said. “You can mix and match genes and do all sorts of things that if you were breeding [organisms] would take forever.”
These modified extremophiles can shed light on a variety of astrobiological questions, including whether or not a planet is potentially habitable. “Say we find a planet, and it has a certain pH, temperature, and radiation regime,” Rothschild told me.
“That’s where we take up the challenge and go into the lab,” she continued. “We’ll say, ‘All right, let’s start with this one that can live at low pH and high temperature. Can we add the radiation resistance?’ Then, we can go back to the astronomers and say [habitability] is not impossible, because we just made something in the lab like that last week.