Due to several recent discoveries, much of the conversation surrounding the search for alien life has turned to wondering if we might discover microbial life long before we find green, three-breasted alien women. Microbes have been discovered here on Earth which can survive on air alone, or even by ‘eating’ radiation in some cases. Microbes have even been sustained in a simulated Martian atmosphere and Russian state media claims microbes were found on the outside of the ISS last year. Are macroscopic, walking, talking life forms such as us hairless apes an anomaly? Could the rest of the universe be filled with microscopic forms of life? Who knows. However, if that possibility becomes a reality, a new experimented conducted aboard the International Space Station lends hope to our own ability to identify any potential alien life forms we may encounter in space.
According to a NASA press release, scientists on the ISS successfully sequenced the genomes of mystery microbes found inside the space station. The microbes were found earlier last year clinging to various surfaces inside the space station. While it’s well-known that astronauts bring all sorts of creepy crawly contaminants with them when they enter the space station, the identity of these space bugs has never been identified - particularly not while aboard the space station itself. In the press statement, NASA claims this groundbreaking experiment could pave the way for being able to identify any potential lifeforms found during our future exploration of the cosmos:
The ability to identify microbes in space could aid in the ability to diagnose and treat astronaut ailments in real time, as well as assisting in the identification of DNA-based life on other planets. Being able to identify microbes in real time aboard the International Space Station, without having to send them back to Earth for identification first, would be revolutionary for the world of microbiology and space exploration.
Of course, it would have been much more exciting had the microbes actually been from space and not from the dead skin cells and other effluvium that surrounds astronauts’ bodies like the dust cloud floating around Pig-Pen from Peanuts. Still, now that scientists have the ability to sequence DNA in space, that opens the doors for much faster identification of alien DNA in the future. The only question now is if that discovery will happen in our lifetimes.