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New test could help seek life on other worlds


Posted on Saturday, 28 January, 2017 | Comment icon 6 comments

The technique is ideal for seeking alien life on Europa. Image Credit: NASA
Scientists have developed a new testing method to aid in the hunt for extraterrestrial life forms.
Known as capillary electrophoresis, the liquid-based technique, which has actually been around for years, was originally designed to analyze amino acids - the building blocks of all life on Earth.

Now though, scientists have adapted the method to look for life on other worlds as well. The process is actually very simple, easy to automate and is reportedly 10,000 times more sensitive than any test that has ever been carried out on another world before.

It should prove particularly effective at looking for evidence of alien life on ocean worlds such as Europa where the testing process would involve little more than combining a water sample with a liquid reagent and then carrying out a chemical analysis using a laser.

"Our method improves on previous attempts by increasing the number of amino acids that can be detected in a single run," said study lead author Jessica Creamer.

"Additionally, it allows us to detect these amino acids at very low concentrations, even in highly salty samples, with a very simple 'mix and analyze' process."

The technique is even able to differentiate between amino acids that have come from life forms and those that have originated in meteorites and other non-living sources.

"One of NASA's highest-level objectives is the search for life in the universe," said the project's principal investigator Peter Willis. "Our best chance of finding life is by using powerful liquid-based analyses like this one on ocean worlds."

Source: Clarksville Online | Comments (6)

Tags: Alien, Extraterrestrial

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Parsec on 28 January, 2017, 21:13
That is cool, but isn't there the tiny practical problem to find a sample of liquid water in the first place?  Unless we are able to exploit possible icy geysers on the planet/moon, it's still a long way. 
Comment icon #2 Posted by Sundew on 29 January, 2017, 16:01
I would think you could take extremely pure, chemical free water on board the probe to mix with soil or ices. Or with ices, they can of course be melted. 
Comment icon #3 Posted by Parsec on 29 January, 2017, 23:51
Makes sense, but I'm thinking about icy bodies with ice crusts several km deep (like all the ones we know of so far). I don't know how much you can find scratching the surface and even then, would it be native of the planet/moon or coming from elsewhere, if it's laying there?  It would be like finding bacteria outside an eggshell.  Well, not that would change the earth shaking discovery of life elsewhere in space, but since we're talking theoretically, that's a question that popped to my mind. 
Comment icon #4 Posted by Sundew on 30 January, 2017, 2:57
I believe on one of the Saturnian moons there are geysers of liquid water shooting into space from cracks in the surface, you could test these even if frozen on the surface, since it would be fairly certain of their origin.  I hope I do live long enough that man does find life outside the Earth, and hope that we don't bring any back that can run amok, unlikely as that may be. 
Comment icon #5 Posted by Parsec on 30 January, 2017, 21:42
That's why I mentioned icy geysers in my first reply!  I agree with you anyway.    I do hope it too, but are you thinking more in the way of Doctor Who's episode on Mars, the Thing, the Invasion of the Body Snatchers or the War of the Worlds?
Comment icon #6 Posted by Sundew on 1 February, 2017, 13:27
I just know on Earth, invasive exotic plants and animals can cause havoc on native ecosystems, and while it's unlikely an alien life form would survive on Earth, given the differences between an ice moon and Earth, the possibly it there. Life does seem to find a way to survive and thrive. The building blocks of our planet's DNA are four amino acids in base pairs, who's to say those are the only ones capable of producing life? What might introducing something totally alien using different amino acids cause if it's microbial, given microbes like to swap genetic material with other microbes? I am... [More]


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