Are we alone in the Universe? This question has teased scientists and philosophers for many decades and is a central theme in much science fiction writing. More recently, as planets have been discovered in solar systems other than our own, the question has returned. Could there be another Earth-like planet colonised by living organisms out there somewhere? This field has become so important scientifically that it is now regarded as a separate discipline – that of astrobiology. Continue reading
Over the last few years, the universe has started to look increasingly friendly to life, and scientists who previously said they didn’t expect to find living things on other planets are beginning to change their tune. NASA’s Kepler telescope may be largely non-functional, but the search for other organisms in the Universe is just beginning.
Last month at the Faraday Institute, astrobiologist Stephen Freeland gave a lecture entitled, ‘Will alien life share our genetic code?’ – a topic which would have been on the border of science fiction a couple of decades ago, but is now a serious question. Continue reading
Incredibly, every living thing – you, your cat, the plant on your desk, and the bacteria in your toilet – share exactly the same genetic code. It has been suggested that the particular code we all use was arrived at by chance, and that we have a shared genetics because we have a shared ancestor. Others think while it’s true that we have a common ancestor, our molecular biology is highly optimised.
The genetic code is fascinating because it links two completely unrelated biological systems. It’s rather like sending a message in Morse code and receiving it with a machine that uses binary numbers. The two codes are completely unrelated, but it’s possible to translate between them. It sounds odd, but this juxtaposition of completely different systems works incredibly well in living organisms. Continue reading