Synthetic DNA could help in search for extraterrestrial life
A NASA-funded research endeavor has made a breakthrough in the methods in which life on other planets might be discovered, the U.S. space agency said.
According to NASA, a new synthetic molecule has been identified and created that resembles the basic structure and function of a DNA molecule. While “regular” DNA contains the four basic informational ingredients for life—adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine—this new synthetic molecule contains these same four structures, as well as four additional nucleotides that can transfer and store information much in the same way.
The idea is for scientists to create new ways in which to identify life on distant planets and solar systems that measured beyond the traditional double-helix DNA structure.
While this synthetic structure, which NASA says is not a new life form, still resembles the same double-helix as regular DNA, its genetic make-up gives scientists far more options for looking for and discovering life beyond Earth.
Scientists at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Florida have created what they call the “Hachimoji DNA,” which translates to “eight letters” in Japanese. This is due in part to the unique structure of the synthetic molecule being made up of eight nucleotides.
The project was spearheaded by Steven Benner in conjunction with scientists and laboratories from Indiana University and the University of Texas in Austin, as well as well as DNA Software in Ann Arbor, Michigan. These scientists and institutions were tasked with finding new ways to observe life on foreign objects, or in this case, distant planets. The idea then became to replicate this synthetic article here on Earth.
“Incorporating a broader understanding of what is possible in our instrument design and mission concepts will result in a more inclusive and, therefore, more effective search for life beyond Earth,” Mary Voytek, senior astrobiology scientist for NASA, said in a news release.
Having a life-long interest in crewed space flight, Desforges’ passion materialized on a family vacation in 1999 when he was able see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-96. Since then, Desforges has been an enthusiast of space exploration efforts. He lived in Orlando, Florida for a year, during which time he had the opportunity to witness the flights of the historic CRS-4 and EFT-1 missions in person at Cape Canaveral. He earned his Private Pilot Certificate in 2017, holds a degree in Aviation Management, and currently works as an Operations Analyst in the aviation industry in Georgia.