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Searching for alien life: Maybe we should start with extraterrestrial viruses

| | January 24, 2018
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This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

One possibility for what might be out there that’s, relatively speaking, one of the most plausible theories has so far also been overlooked: space viruses. While some might dismiss microscopic phages as considerably less thrilling than fluorescent green humanoids, they’d actually be a hugely exciting first find.

Ken Stedman, the co-chair of NASA’s Virus Focus Group, is hoping to raise viruses’ profile and repair their reputation—last week, he published a review in which he and two other scientists, Aaron Berliner of UC–Berkeley and Tomohiro Mochizuki of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, lay out the case for how, where, and why we should be looking for these tiny not-quite life forms.

[V]iruses are an excellent indicator for life itself: Wherever there’s life on Earth, there are viruses, too, and almost invariably in far greater numbers.

[T]he researchers contend that “if a virion (or a viruslike particle) were to be unequivocally detected in an extraterrestrial sample, very few people would claim that this would not be evidence for life—wherever that sample was from.” This makes sense: If these hypothetical viruses, unlike the ones we’ve found so far on Earth, are actually self-sustaining, they do meet NASA’s criteria for a life form; if not, it means that an actual living organism must be nearby to play host.

Read full, original post: NASA’s Been Ordered to Search for Life in Space. They Should Start With Viruses. Really!

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