Alien Life Discovered on Earth?

We sometimes see creationists asking: “If it’s so natural for life to start from non-living chemicals, then how some it isn’t happening all the time?

The usual answer is that if it were to happen, we’d probably never notice it because some new configuration of a microbe would be tiny and the oceans are huge. Besides that, it would quickly be devoured by the kinds of life we already see, so once life evolves and gets a good foothold, it’s unlikely that something totally new would ever have a chance to become established. That’s why everything we see has evolved from one early form of life.

It tough enough for existing species to survive in this world — something new has virtually no chance at all. The available niches are already occupied. So it’s probably the case that yes, from time to time, new life does evolve from non-living chemicals, but it won’t get very far. A global ecosystem is likely to develop only once per habitable planet.

Which brings us to a couple of articles we recently found at PhysOrg. They indicate that unusual, very unexpected forms of life can evolve and thrive — in isolated habitats. Check out these two stories:

The first is Strange alien slime discovered living beneath the Nullarbor Plain. It says:

Deep in water-filled underground caves beneath Australia’s Nullarbor Plain, cave divers have discovered unusual ‘curtains’ of biological material – known as Nullarbor cave slimes.

The paper on that is in the International Society for Microbial Ecology, but we can’t find it to give you a link unless we log in there, and that’s too much trouble. Let’s continue with PhysOrg:

“Earlier studies on the community suggested that there was an unusual chemistry going on in the caves, but we didn’t know how the microbes were making a living in the cave environment,” says the lead scientist Professor Ian Paulsen, Macquarie University.

We’ll skip to the end:

The research team says this analysis shows that the organisms make up the Weebubbie cave slime community make their living in a very unusual way – by oxidizing ammonia in the salty cave water – and are completely independent of sunlight and ecosystems on the surface. “It just goes to show that life in the dark recesses of the planet comes in many strange forms, many of which are still unknown,” says Professor Paulsen.

But wait — there’s more than one alien life form out there. We also found this: Russia finds ‘new bacteria’ in Antarctic lake. As with the Australian cave slime, note the isolated environment. The article says:

Russian scientists believe they have found a wholly new type of bacteria in the mysterious subglacial Lake Vostok in Antarctica, the RIA Novosti news agency reported on Thursday. The samples obtained from the underground lake in May 2012 contained a bacteria which bore no resemblance to existing types, said Sergei Bulat of the genetics laboratory at the Saint Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics.

“After putting aside all possible elements of contamination, DNA was found that did not coincide with any of the well-known types in the global database,” he said.

It seems that the intelligent designer still has a trick or two we haven’t seen yet. The article continues:

The discovery comes from samples collected in an expedition in 2012 where a Russian team drilled down to the surface of Lake Vostok, which is believed to have been covered by ice for more than a million years but has kept its liquid state.

Pay attention to this:

Bulat said that the interest surrounded one particular form of bacteria whose DNA was less than 86 percent similar to previously existing forms. “In terms of work with DNA this is basically zero. A level of 90 percent usually means that the organism is unknown.”

He said it was not even possible to find the genetic descendants of the bacteria. “If this had been found on Mars everyone would have undoubtedly said there is life on Mars. But this is bacteria from Earth.”

Okay, that’s enough. You can click over there to read both articles if you like. But one thing seems certain: We ain’t no kin to no Australian cave slime, or to that Antarctic bacteria either.

Addendum: The Russian find in Antarctica may be bogus. See Russia admits no new life form found in Antarctic lake.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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12 responses to “Alien Life Discovered on Earth?

  1. docbill1351

    Leave it to Australia to have “cave slime.” Probably marsupial, too.

  2. Leave it to Australia to have “cave slime.”

    That would explain Ken Ham.

    On a more serious note, another environment where we might find new, alien forms of life would be around the mid-ocean deep sea vents, better known for their huge, red-tipped tube worms and other strange fauna.

  3. If, for the sake of argument, we postulated that either of these new organisms represented a second genesis, then it would follow that the DNA molecule and the rest of the cellular organization must be the default structure of all living things, regardless of where they originate.

    I don’t think that will be true. I don’t believe we will identify anything as alien based on the percentage of difference in its DNA – I think we’ll identify something as alien when we find something with no DNA at all. Maybe it will have another type of molecule that serves the same purpose, or some other method of replication, but it seems unlikely that DNA and the familiar cellular organization would arise independently in a second genesis. I think the differences in these examples are due to long separation and independent evolutionary history.

  4. Ceteris Paribus

    @ED: I dunno. There are only a limited number of chemical elements, and a limited number of ways that they can combine and provide the energetic pathways that are needed to provide for life.

    So life is kind of like Lego blocks. There are are only a limited number of Lego block shapes produced by the Lego factory. But give a kid enough time and Lego blocks, and she will assemble them into a representation of a marsupial slime monster.

  5. Ed says: “I think we’ll identify something as alien when we find something with no DNA at all.”

    That would require some kind of hypothetical type of biochemistry based not on carbon, but maybe silicon or something. I suspect that if it’s carbon-based, it’ll have some kind of DNA, and life found on Earth is likely to be based on carbon. But I’ve been wrong before. Anyway, if the cave slime or the Antarctic bacteria are using a very unfamiliar form of DNA, they could be the result of a totally independent emergence of life.

  6. Ed is correct that a non DNA based organism would almost certainly qualify as a second genesis. however it is not a disproof if the organism has dna. i suspect true alien life will have dna or rna our both but a nice proof that it is alien would be if it used different or more base s

  7. doodlebugger

    What about the cave slime at the Discovery Institute that came to earth with the asteroids now occupying the building? How could Physorg have missed that one?

  8. I am now seeing reports that there was no discovery of a new kind of bacteria in Antarctica. For example:
    ‘No unfamiliar microorganisms found in Lake Vostok water – researcher’
    ‘Eukaryote genetics laboratory head Vladimir Korolyov told Interfax they did not find any life forms other than contaminants.
    “We found certain specimen, although not many, but all of them belonged to contaminants (microorganisms from the bore-hole kerosene, human bodies or the lab). There was one strain of bacteria which we did not find in drilling liquid, but the bacteria could in principal use kerosene as an energy source,” Korolyov said.’

    No unfamiliar microorganisms found in lake vostok water – researcher

  9. TomS says: “I am now seeing reports that there was no discovery of a new kind of bacteria in Antarctica.”

    Yeah, yeah. But don’t ask what’s going on at Area 51. Rumor has it that they’re breeding a new, sub-human warrior zombie made of Australian cave slime.

  10. SC said:

    But don’t ask what’s going on at Area 51. Rumor has it that they’re breeding a new, sub-human warrior zombie made of Australian cave slime.

    How…? Who…? Who told you that?!?!? How did you find that out?!?!?

    (now please look at the top of this pen… you’ll see a brief flash…)

  11. We just added this as an addendum to the original post: The Russian find in Antarctica may be bogus. See Russia admits no new life form found in Antarctic lake.

  12. @Gary — You’re supposed to ignore any comments about Area 51, Gary. They’re trying to develop a winning football team for the Boilermakers.