Story at a glance

  • As humans continue our study of space and travel, the search for life on other planets is advancing.
  • One expert told The Guardian that it is likely that life exists elsewhere in the universe in the form of viruses.
  • He says that the viruses would likely not be adapted to infect humans.

When you think about aliens, you might picture something from popular imagination — such as ET or a character from the "Star Trek" universe — that isn’t all that different from humans or other animals. But scientists know that life comes in many different forms — including viruses. 

“Viruses actually form part of the web of life,” Paul Davies, an astrobiologist, cosmologist and director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University, told The Guardian. “I would expect that if you’ve got microbial life on another planet, you’re bound to have – if it’s going to be sustainable and sustained – the full complexity and robustness that will go with being able to exchange genetic information.”


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Similarly to how Christopher Columbus brought foreign diseases to the Americas, leading to the genocide of mass numbers of Indigenous people, it’s possible that interplanetary travel could bring these viruses to Earth — or vice versa. Before you panic, however, Davies also said that they will likely not be familiar with humans and thus pose little risk of infection. In fact, viruses can play a vital role in sustaining life as well. 

“We hear about the microbiome inside us, and there’s a planetary microbiome,” he told the Guardian. “I think without viruses, there may be no sustained life on planet Earth.”


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Published on Sep 07, 2021