A new paper calls on researchers to do more to understand viruses in other places than Earth as part of our attempt to find life elsewhere in the universe.
Though viruses are the most abundant biological thing on Earth, we still know very little about them and our study is relatively limited. That is even more extreme in space, where we know next to nothing about viruses and whether they might exist at all, and there is little organised study of them.
There is a good chance they are elsewhere, if anything is. They are about 10 to 100 times more abundant than any other cellular organism on Earth, and are incredibly ancient – they might have been involved in the beginning of life from its very earliest stages.
If the situation is the same elsewhere, however, we probably wouldn't know about it. We should be looking far more deeply at the planets that surround us to see whether they have viruses of their own, a new paper says.
Portland State University biology professor Ken Stedman and his colleagues propose in a new paper, published in the journal Astrobiology, that a field of study should be devoted to looking for such viruses. Nasa and other space agencies should be looking for them in the samples we have retrieved from Saturn and Jupiter's moons, developing new ways of finding them in ancient deposits on Earth and Mars, and finding out whether the viruses that surround us and make us sick would be able to survive in the harsh environment of space.
“More than a century has passed since the discovery of the first viruses,” said Professor Stedman in a statement. “Entering the second century of virology, we can finally start focusing beyond our own planet.”
The original article was published in the Independent.
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