Finding extraterrestrial viruses could be key to discovering alien life, study reports

A group of researchers believe searching for viruses on other planets could aid the search for extraterrestrial life.
By Joseph Scalise | Jan 25, 2018
Scientists from Portland State University believe that other planets could contain foreign viruses, and searching for such extraterrestrial organisms could provide new insight into the universe.

Viruses are one of the most abundant organisms on Earth. In fact, they are roughly 10 to 100 times more plentiful than any other organism on our planet. However, they are also one of the least understood. While scientists believe they played a key role in helping life develop, nobody is sure how.

In the new study, the researchers postulated that there could be yet-undiscovered viruses on other planets. They believe searching for such organisms would be important because, as viruses are often believed to have played a role in the formation of life on Earth, studying them could help astronomers get a better of idea of where else life could exist in the universe.

Unfortunately, there is no current research on if or how such organisms could exist beyond our own planet.

"More than a century has passed since the discovery of the first viruses," said study co-author Ken Stedman, a biology professor at Portland State University, according to The New York Post. "Entering the second century of virology, we can finally start focusing beyond our own planet,"

The group in the study have expanded on that idea in a new report, where they urge NASA and other space agencies to start looking for virus samples from Saturn and Jupiter's moons. In addition, the researchers hope the space agency will put funding into technology that could detect viruses in ancient Earth deposits. That could then help scientists learn if viruses from Earth could survive 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," added Stedman, in a statement.

Their article, "Astrovirology: Viruses at Large in the Universe," is set to be published in the February issue of Astrobiology.

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