Scientists are finally starting to think as scientists should in terms of alien life. As a result, they’ve synthesized an “artificial” molecular system that handles information much in the same way that a typical DNA molecule does. This has led to a number of different theories, not the least of which includes the argument that life might not be what we think it is elsewhere in the universe.
Until now, most scientists assumed that anything that was considered life would be confined to the limits of what we, humans, know life to be. This means examples of life should be carbon-based, breathe some sort of oxygen, and live in an environment such as that created by what they call the “Goldilocks zone.”
The problem with this theory is that we’ve already found forms of life on Earth that don’t conform to these base theories of what life should be like. Scientists have previously found what’s called “anaerobic” life, which includes organisms that do not need oxygen in any form to survive. Scientists have found this type of life
Another example is called an “extremophile,” or an organism that can convert bacteria into energy, without the use of the Sun to do so. These particular organisms include various fish, crabs, shrimp, and tube worm species that live deep at the bottom of the oceans, usually around methane seeps, under high pressure and temperatures.
So, the question that always remained was: If we found life on Earth that doesn’t live in an environment that conforms to what humans think of as “habitable” conditions, what makes us think that life simply MUST exist elsewhere in the same way we do?
Because of extremophiles and this discovery, we can’t any longer, and scientists are finally starting to admit that alien life may exist in other forms. That is, in forms that don’t conform to what we naturally think of as habitable or life as we know it. They’ve made a serious breakthrough as a result.
This brings us to the synthesized molecule, which the researchers are calling “hachimoji,” a name that translates to “eight-letter” in Japanese.
Receiving funds from NASA, a scientific team from Alachua, Florida, led by Steven Benner from the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, was able to think outside the box and create the new molecular system that works in the same way that a DNA molecule does. This feat allowed the scientists to finally realize that DNA-based life as we know it may not be the only type of life there is in the universe.
“By carefully analyzing the roles of shape, size and structure in hachimoji DNA, this work expands our understanding of the types of molecules that might store information in extraterrestrial life on alien worlds.”
We all know that DNA is made up of four chemicals called nucleotides. These are AGCT, or adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine, and those chemicals are paired to create unique DNA sequences that make each organism different.
The difference between the new molecule and typical DNA molecule is how many chemicals the new form contains. While DNA as we know it contains four, the synthesized DNA contains eight, and it works the same way as typical DNA, as it contains the same four nucleotides. However, the synthesized DNA molecule contains four extra informational chemicals designed to “mimic the structures of the informational ingredients in regular DNA,” according to the report.
According to acting director Lori Glaze from NASA’s Planetary Science Division:
“Life detection is an increasingly important goal of NASA’s planetary science missions, and this new work will help us to develop effective instruments and experiments that will expand the scope of what we look for.”
Speculating further, the new molecule could have the potential to store and transmit double the amount of information. Alternatively, it could have the capacity to create life forms that we as humans could never dream of. Theoretically, of course.
With this breakthrough, scientists have no choice but to think outside the box when it comes to looking for life elsewhere in the universe. Or, if you will, outside of what we think of as “life,” or “habitable environments.”
For more information on this breakthrough watch this video:
Featured Image: Screenshot via YouTube Video