NASA has synthesised an “alien” form of DNA, revolutionising our understanding of what extraterrestrial life may resemble and where it exists.
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) contains the genetic instructions for all known living things. And scientists at US space agency NASA have created an “alien” form of DNA. This DNA could lead breakthroughs in understanding what alien life could resemble.
The NASA discovery suggests there might be unimagined forms of DNA-based life as we know it on Earth.
And alien life on other worlds might be built using different molecular systems of the kind the NASA scientists have synthesised, they have suggested.
The new molecular system will allow scientists searching for alien life to recalibrate what exactly they are actually looking for and where it could exist.
DNA is a complex double helix-shaped molecule stored and then transmitting the genetic information that makes us who we are.
This data is passed from generation to generation in every living thing on Earth, allowing life to continue.
DNA is constructed of four different ingredients, known as nucleotides and are common across all life on our planet.
But DNA could likely vary significantly elsewhere in the universe, the NASA study has shown.
Imagining forms of life that might use different structures – and developing ways of detecting them – is a central part of NASA’s work.
And this week’s announcement is a huge breakthrough, as the study has has created such a molecule.
Lori Glaze, acting director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division said: “Life detection is an increasingly important goal of NASA’s planetary science missions, and this new work will help us to develop effective instruments and experiments that will expand the scope of what we look for.”
The new research saw scientists create a new kind of molecule system that functions like DNA, but has an important difference.
Instead of DNA’s usual four ingredients, the NASA scientists have created one containing eight.
It has all of the four that are found in life on Earth: adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine.
The NASA scientist have added an extra four synthetic ones, capable of mimicking the structures of the ingredients found in regular DNA.
The NASA researchers call the new creation “hachimoji” DNA – hachi is Japanese for eight, while moji means letter.
Hhachimoji DNA functions the same as our DNA, meeting the same requirements that allow it to store and transmit information.
That has meant that the kinds of molecules that might be storing information in life on alien worlds could be similarly different.