The universe may be filled with ALIEN VIRUSES

The universe may be filled with ALIEN VIRUSES

0 comments 📅22 January 2018, 03:30

Scientists now say viruses may be the key to finding life elsewhere in the universe.

Viruses can be found just about everywhere on Earth; they’re the most common biological entities on the planet, and are thought to have played an important role in the emergence of life.  And, scientists now say they may be the key to finding life elsewhere in the universe, too.  In a new study, researchers argue that space-faring efforts should consider the possibility that viruses may be thriving in places beyond Earth, from the hidden oceans of Europa and Enceladus to ancient deposits on Mars.   ‘More than a century has passed since the discovery of the first viruses,’ says Portland State University biology professor, Ken Stedman.  ‘Entering the second century of virology, we can finally start focusing beyond our own planet.’

Space-faring efforts should consider the possibility that viruses may be thriving in places beyond Earth.

In the new paper, the researchers detail the case for ‘astrovirology,’ which would combine virus research with astrobiology to detect biosignatures and understand how viruses may spread in space.  As the search for alien life continues, it’s tiny organisms that are often the point of focus.  And on Earth, there are 10-100 times more viruses than any other cellular organism.  Given their abundance and their possible role in evolution, the experts say viruses may be an important sign of life on other planets and moons as well.  ‘Viruses arguably have coexisted with cellular life-forms since the earliest stages of life, may have been directly involved therein, and have profoundly influenced cellular evolution,’ the authors explain.  ‘Viruses are the only entities on modern Earth to use either RNA or DNA in both single- and double-stranded forms for their genetic material and thus may provide a model for the putative RNA-protein world.’

Ken Stedman

The researchers urge NASA and other space agencies to look for viruses as they move forward with their investigations of alien worlds.  Certain locations, including liquid on Saturn and Jupiter’s moons or sediment deposits on Mars, may be among the best places to find them.  As yet, there remains much to be learned about the possibility of viruses in space.  ‘With this paper, we hope to inspire integration of virus research into astrobiology and also point out pressing unanswered questions in astrovirology, particularly regarding the detection of virus biosignatures and whether viruses could be spread extraterrestrially,’ Stedman said.  While the thought of alien viruses might sound alarming, the researcher insists it likely would not be the nightmarish scenario it seems.  ‘Viruses have a bad rap,’ Stedman told Gizmodo.  ‘If we find viruses on other planets it is an indication of life, not something to be scared of.’

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