Martians on Earth?

March 23, 2011

Brit Trogen


Men are from Mars, women are from... Mars?


This is the hypothesis driving the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes (SETG) at MIT; an effort to seek out ancient DNA or RNA on Mars, then (if they find it) isolate genetic sequences that are universal to all life on Earth. If approved by NASA, this strategy would seek to confirm the latest panspermia theory to enter the mainstream: that all life on Earth descended from organisms that originated on Mars which were later carried here on meteors.


Sounds a bit like the start of a Scientology textbook. But the theory isn't actually too far out there, in terms of what we already know. First of all, in the early solar system, the climates of Earth and Mars were much more alike than they are today, so it's at least possible that something that evolved on Mars could have a chance of surviving here.


One billion tons of rock are also known to have traveled from Mars to Earth after having been blasted loose by asteroid impacts. Microbes are capable of surviving the shock of impact after landing on a planet from space, and while we don't yet have direct proof, there's at least some evidence that they could survive thousands of years of transit through space as well... So going through it step-by-step, the theory seems at least plausible. 


Seeking out our distant Martian relatives isn't the only reason for doing this experiment. Any extraplanetary microbes uncovered that share some of our genetic material could pose a much more serious health risk to visiting astronaut than purely "alien" germs. And it could also help us to determine whether past spacecraft have been leaving behind any biological contaminants. 


But the greatest advance to come of all this will be our universal leg up. Earth is like so the most boring planet to have evolved on. All hail our new exotic Martian ancestry!



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