When it comes to discovering life beyond our planet, one of the most common methods is called biosignature: signs of chemicals that are produced by life forms, such as the recent possible detection of phosphine on Venus. . But this requires making a lot of assumptions about what life looks like and how it operates – not to mention the practical challenges of finding every chemical that may be relevant. Now, a team at Arizona State University has come up with a new approach to biosignature, which can see life more widely and which can fit into a space probe.
The idea is not to search for specific chemicals, but to look for complex molecules that would be unlikely to be formed in large quantities by coincidence. They developed an algorithm to provide molecules with a complexity score based on how many bonds they have, known as molecular assembly (MA) numbers. This number can be measured using instruments that fit space probes, and if you find a bunch of complex molecules in a given region, this is a big clue that you should look at there more closely.
“This method enables one to identify life without the need for any prior knowledge of biochemistry,” said Sarah Imrie Walker, co-author of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “So it can be used to explore alien life in future NASA missions, and is informing an entirely new experimental and theoretical view of what life is in the universe ultimately, and how it escapes from lifeless chemicals. Could. “
The clever part is that this method avoids guessing what life looks like. It seems that living things produce more complex molecules than inanimate things, so we can walk the path of complexity to discover life.
Not only that, but by understanding more about how the chemical system processes information, it can also achieve success in other areas.
Cole Mathis, a postdoctoral researcher ASU alumnus at the University of Glasgow, said, “We think this will enable a completely new approach to understanding the origins of living systems on Earth, other worlds, and hopefully in laboratory experiments de Novo Living System will be identified. ” Co-author. “From a really practical point of view, if we can understand how living systems are able to self-organize and produce complex molecules, then we can use those insights to design and manufacture new drugs and new materials. “
This research is published in the journal Nature Communications.