ALFA combines two functions. A concentrator of genetic polymers, Agnostic Life Finder (ALF), and state of the art Analyzers of the concentrated genetic polymers (ref.).
ALF, the polyelectrolyte concentrator
Agnostic Life Finder (ALF) is based on the technique of electrodialysis with a porous membrane (see the simplified animation below).
ALF separates charged molecules pumped into Channel 4 by charge and size. Charged molecules are pulled toward their respective electrodes. Small (inorganic) ions pass across the microfiltration membranes (MFMs) and the ultrafiltration membranes (UFMs), and are rejected by the restriction membranes (RMs). Therefore, the small ions are concentrated in Channels 2 and 6. The large (organic) polyelectrolytes are pulled across the MFMs, but they are rejected by UFMs. Therefore, polyanions are concentrated in Channel 3 and polycations concentrate Channel 5:
Above is a simplified scheme of separation of charged molecules during electrodialysis of Martian ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilization) water in ALF.
The streams from Channels 3 and 5 are further concentrated by membrane filtration, and analyzed by state-of-the-art analyzers.
The state of the art analyzers
The concentrated, purified, and desalted polyelectrolytes are analyzed on-site using a battery of field-tested modern analyzers. We will use highly sensitive techniques developed for astrobiological analysis by our team, including MinION sequencing, antibody microarrays, and mass spectrometry.
MANY ALTERNATIVE FORMS OF “DNA” HAVE BEEN MADE IN THE LAB
The science team behind ALFA Mars is internationally known for its work making alternatives to the DNA found on Earth. These alternatives teach us how Martian DNA might be similar to Earth DNA, and how it might be different. This research has taught us how to find Martians, even if they are very different from Earthlings.
ALIEN DNA MUST HAVE A REPEATING BACKBONE CHARGE
One thing learned by our science team is that all alien DNA, including Martian DNA, must have a repeating charge. That charge may be negative, like Earthling DNA. That charge may be positive. But without multiple charges, the DNA cannot support Darwinian evolution. And without evolution, life cannot persist.
HIGHLY CHARGED MARTIAN DNA IS EASY TO ISOLATE FROM WATER
Negatively charged DNA moves in an electric fields towards a positive electrode. Positively charged DNA moves towards a negative electrode. This kind of separation is often done to separate salts from water (see below). Loads of Martian water will be mined in preparation for human visitors, from near surface glaciers that are exactly where Martian life may exist.
ALF: Returning At Last to Find Martian Microbes
With its ability to recover polyelectrolytes from large amounts of water, its access to large amounts of Martian water during robotic water mining operations, and the inter-mixing of that water with dust from around the planet, ALF will effectively sample the entire accessible surface of Mars for Martian life, before humans arrive. We are the only organization aiming to find extant life on Mars before the first private company brings human feet to Mars.