Did 40-year-old Viking experiment discover life on Mars?

October 21, 2016 by Lisa Zyga feature
The Viking 2 Lander site, showing frost on the ground. This image was taken by Viking 2 in 1979. Credit: NASA; Viking 2 Lander image P-21873

(Phys.org)—In 1976, two Viking landers became the first US spacecraft from Earth to touch down on Mars. They took the first high-resolution images of the planet, surveyed the planet's geographical features, and analyzed the geological composition of the atmosphere and surface. Perhaps most intriguingly, they also performed experiments that searched for signs of microbial life in Martian soil.

Overall, these life-detection experiments produced surprising and contradictory results. One experiment, the Labeled Release (LR) experiment, showed that the Martian soil tested positive for metabolism—a sign that, on Earth, would almost certainly suggest the presence of life. However, a related experiment found no trace of organic material, suggesting the absence of life. With no organic substances, what could be, or seem to be, metabolizing?

In the forty years since these experiments, scientists have been unable to reconcile the conflicting results, and the general consensus is that the Viking landers found no conclusive evidence of life on Mars. However, a small minority of scientists argues that the Viking results were positive for life on Mars.

One prominent proponent of this view is Gilbert Levin, Experimenter of the Viking LR experiment. At first, Levin thought that the LR results were unclear, and stated merely that the results were consistent with biology. However, in 1997, after many years of further experiments on Earth, along with new discoveries on Mars (which NASA has now declared "habitable"), and the discovery of microorganisms living under conditions on Earth as severe as those on Mars, he and his Viking Co-Experimenter, Dr. Patricia A. Straat, have argued that the Mars results are best explained by living organisms.

Recently, Levin and Straat published a perspective piece in the journal Astrobiology in which they reconsider the results of the Viking LR experiment in light of recent findings on Mars and recent proposals for inorganic substances that may mimic the observed metabolism-like processes. They argue that none of the proposed abiotic substances sufficiently explains the Viking results, and that Martian microbes should still be considered as the best explanation of the results.

How the Labeled Release experiment worked

In the LR experiment, both the Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers collected samples of Martian soil, injected them with a drop of dilute nutrient solution, and then monitored the air above the soil for signs of metabolic byproducts. Since the nutrients were tagged with radioactive carbon-14, if microorganisms in the soil metabolized the nutrients, they would be expected to produce radioactive byproducts, such as radioactive carbon dioxide or methane.

Before launching the Viking spacecraft, the researchers tested the experimental protocol on a wide variety of terrestrial soils from harsh environments, from Death Valley to Antarctica. In each case, the experiments tested positive for life. Then as a control, the researchers heated the samples to 160 °C to kill all lifeforms, and then retested. In each case, the experiments now tested negative. To further confirm that the experimental procedure would not produce false positives, the researchers tested it on soils known to be sterile, such as those from the Moon and the Surtsey volcanic island near Iceland, which produced negative results as expected.

Once on Mars, the LR experiment was performed after the experiment searching for came up empty-handed. So it came as a surprise when both Viking landers, located 4,000 miles apart, collected soil that tested positive for metabolism. To rule out the possibility that the strong ultraviolet radiation on Mars might be causing the positive results, the landers collected soil buried underneath a rock, which again tested positive. The control tests also worked, with the 160 °C sterilization control yielding negative results.

In addition, it seemed that whatever was doing the metabolizing was relatively fragile, since metabolic activity was significantly reduced when heating the sample to 50 °C, and completely absent when storing the soil in the dark for two months at 10 °C. Levin and Straat believe that these results provide some of the strongest evidence that the soil contained Martian life.

Nonbiological candidates

Ever since the LR experiments, researchers have been searching for other kinds of nonbiological chemicals that might produce identical results.

In their new paper, Levin and Straat review some of these proposals. One possible candidate is formate, which is a component of formic acid found naturally on Earth. A 2003 LR-type experiment found that formate in a soil sample from the Atacama Desert in South America produced a positive result, even though the soil contained virtually no microorganisms. However, the study did not include a sterilization control, and it's likely that the formate concentration in the Atacama Desert is much higher than that on Mars.

Another potential candidate is perchlorate or one of its breakdown products. In 2009, the Phoenix mission to Mars detected perchlorates in the Martian soil. Although perchlorates could yield a positive result because they produce gas when interacting with some amino acids, they do not break down at 160 °C, and so would continue to give positive results after the sterilization control.

A 2013 study proposed that cosmic rays and solar radiation can cause perchlorate to break down into hypochlorite, which would produce positive results and, unlike perchlorate, is destroyed by heating at 160 °C. For these reasons, hypochlorite is arguably the best candidate yet to explain the LR results.

Nevertheless, Levin and Straat note that hypochlorite has not yet been tested at 50 °C (the temperature at which the activity of the Martian soil was significantly reduced) or after long-term storage in the dark (which produced a negative result for the Martian samples). So at this point, no nonbiological agent has satisfied all of the LR results.

Biological candidates

The Viking 1 Lander’s LR results show that, when injected with the nutrient solution, the soil sample exhibited strong radioactivity, indicating metabolism. The control soil sample, which had been heated to kill any microorganisms, had a negative response. Credit: Levin and Straat, 1977, Biosystems. ©Elsevier

Today researchers know much more about Mars than they did 40 years ago. One of the biggest discoveries came in 2014, when the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover detected the presence of organic molecules on Mars for the first time.

Over the past two years, Curiosity's onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory has detected methane, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and other organic molecules. Researchers suspect that these organic substances may have formed on Mars or been carried there by meteorites.

The discovery of organic matter on Mars raises the question of why the Viking experiment did not detect organic matter back in 1976. As Levin explains, there are multiple reasons that might explain why the Viking results were negative.

"We long ago pointed out the problems with the Viking GCMS (gas chromatograph—mass spectrometer)," Levin said. "Even its experimenter, Dr. Klaus Biemann, often stressed that the GCMS was not a life-detection experiment. It required at least one million microbial cells to detect any organic matter. In addition, the instrument had frequently failed when tested on Earth. Later, it was claimed that perchlorate in the soil destroyed the organic matter. However, I view this cautiously as there is no evidence for perchlorate at the Viking sites."

In light of the recent findings, Levin and Straat believe that it's important to reconsider the LR results as having a biological origin. Other researchers who support this view have proposed that Martian life could take the form of methanogens (microorganisms that produce methane as a byproduct), halophiles (which can tolerate high salt concentrations as well as severe radiation and low oxygen concentrations), or some type of "cryptobiotic" microorganism that lies dormant until reactivated, such as by a nutrient solution like the one in the LR experiment.

Publishing challenges

Publishing a paper about life on Mars was very different than publishing more typical studies (over the years, Levin's research has included low-calorie sweeteners, pharmaceutical drugs, safer pesticides, and wastewater treatment processes, among others). It took nearly 20 years for Levin and Straat to publish a peer-reviewed paper on their interpretation of the Viking LR results.

"Since I first concluded that the LR had detected life (in 1997), major juried journals had refused our publications," Levin told Phys.org. "I and my co-Experimenter, Dr. Patricia Ann Straat, then published mainly in the astrobiology section of the SPIE Proceedings, after presenting the papers at the annual SPIE conventions. Though these were invited papers, they were largely ignored by the bulk of astrobiologists in their publications." These papers are available at gillevin.com.

"At a meeting of the Canadian Space Agency, I met Dr. Sherry Cady, the editor of Astrobiology. She invited me to submit a paper for peer review. I did and it was promptly bounced, not even sent out for review because of its life claim.

"Pat and I decided we would produce a paper that would withstand the utmost scientific scrutiny. It took years of countless renditions and compliance with or explanation away of a myriad of reviewers' comments, but we persisted until we disposed of every adverse comment. Thus, we think this publication is quite significant in that it was scrubbed so thoroughly that the points remaining are firmly established.

"You may not agree with the conclusion, but you cannot disparage the steps leading there. You can say only that the steps are insufficient. But, to us, that seems a tenuous defense, since no one would refute these results had they been obtained on Earth."

Future outlook

For Levin and Straat, one of the most important reasons for considering the existence of life on Mars is a practical one that may affect future research.

"It seems prudent that the scientific community maintain biology as a viable explanation of the LR experimental results," they write in their paper. "It seems inevitable that astronauts will eventually explore Mars. In the interest of their health and safety, biology should be held in the forefront of possible explanations for the LR results."

Going forward, Levin and Straat propose that carefully designed experiments can help to answer the question of the existence of life on Mars. In particular, LR-type experiments that test for chiral preference could tell whether the metabolizing substance is biological or chemical, since only biological agents can distinguish between left and right isomers. The scientists also emphasize the importance of the continued search for organic molecules, especially those with biological significance such as amino acids, simple carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and DNA. Future experiments may also provide the possibility of examining Martian soil under a microscope.

Despite the positive outlook, Levin and Straat note that all future experiments will have an unavoidable drawback: the potential for contamination by previous landers. In this regard, the Viking landers were unique in that they were the only pristine Martian -detection experiment that we will ever have.

Explore further: Could Curiosity determine if Viking found life on Mars?

More information: Gilbert V. Levin and Patricia Ann Straat. "The Case for Extant Life on Mars and Its Possible Detection by the Viking Labeled Release Experiment." Astrobiology. October 2016, 16(10): 798-810. DOI: 10.1089/ast.2015.1464

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JBsocal
5 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2016
"Nevertheless, Levin and Straat note that hypochlorite has not yet been tested at 50 °C (the temperature at which the activity of the Martian soil was significantly reduced) or after long-term storage in the dark (which produced a negative result for the Martian samples). So at this point, no nonbiological agent has satisfied all of the LR results."

Am I missing something here? If a non organic matter is the most likely candidate and they haven't ruled it out why make the argument that it's most likely organic?

OdinsAcolyte
2.5 / 5 (8) Oct 21, 2016
They could well be correct in their findings. I only wish so many other papers were so thoroughly reviewed. Laxness seems to be the rule today in scientific method. I note that the acceptance depends upon the message presented and the intent behind the message.
That is not science it is politics.
Politics is ultimately corrupt not matter the good intentions behind it.
Thus politics is the death of good science. Undoubtedly.
OdinsAcolyte
2.1 / 5 (7) Oct 21, 2016
They could well be correct in their findings. I only wish so many other papers were so thoroughly reviewed. Laxness seems to be the rule today in scientific method. I note that the acceptance depends upon the message presented and the intent behind the message.
That is not science it is politics.
Politics is ultimately corrupt not matter the good intentions behind it.
Thus politics is the death of good science. Undoubtedly.
baudrunner
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 21, 2016
By far, the most compiling discovery to date is that of methane in the atmosphere. That is in all likelihood the result of methanogen activity in the ferrite strata of the planet, which is essentially an iron world. Methanogens digest iron in the anaerobic environment far (?) below the surface, and the byproducts are methane and oil. That is how oil is continuing to be produced in the Earth's crust. That is how it has always been produced. Oil is actually a replenishable resource, you know. We're just using it up faster than it is being produced.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
3.8 / 5 (12) Oct 21, 2016
Levin never gives up. He can at best point out problems with the most likely suspect of all the redox chemicals produced by the UV intense surface environment. But the organic suspects are equally problematic and absent, except in the reduced, chlorinated form in old sediments that Curiosity found.

@JBsocal: Exactly! You encapsulated the problem.

@OdinsAcolyte: To mirror your boring comment, so oft meaninglessly repeated without any evidence whatsoever, buffoonery seems to be the rule today in science site commentary. This is not data driven, it is political opinion. Et cetera, ad idiocy.

@baudrunner: Carbonaceous chondrite impactors are producing methane. Ring any bells as towards highest likelihood? Mars is famous for its many impacts...
Merrit
3 / 5 (2) Oct 21, 2016
Why was this positive result never further explored? The source should have been explored to determine if it was produced by organic or inorganic means. Could inferred see heat from chemical reactions??

Life on Mars could be very different than life on Earth. We live in a DNA world but DNA wouldn't work well on Mars surface due to little atmosphere and missing magnetic field. We need to focus on instances of energy being used such as this and see if some kind of life is consuming it.
AGreatWhopper
4.1 / 5 (9) Oct 21, 2016
Where's "shitlist" or "jeffey" or "cantthink" to tell us that the Vikings grew wheat on Mars?

torbjorn_b_g_larsson 5 /5 (2) 4 hours ago
@baudrunner: Carbonaceous chondrite impactors are producing methane. Ring any bells as towards highest likelihood? Mars is famous for its many impacts...


That one never considers the most parsimonious hypothesis. Why would he start now? The trolls on here are highly practiced in the art of self deception and skilled in making sure they never logically connect data points.
Protoplasmix
4 / 5 (4) Oct 21, 2016
In 1976, two Viking landers became the first spacecraft from Earth to touch down on Mars...
Since 1976? Wow... seems to me an easy way to know for sure there's microbial activity in the soil would be to use a simple light microscope with, what, about 400x magnification?

Or would that be cheating?

Not like our social infrastructure would have a meltdown, is it, if we discovered extraterrestrial life?
mitcheroo
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 22, 2016
If they had taken the billions spent on Mars programs since then and concentrated on at least one serious sample-return mission, we wouldn't still be wringing our hands over the question.

Politics. It's all about the damned craven politics. Your average high school chess club could probably have ran NASA better.
FredJose
2 / 5 (8) Oct 22, 2016
since only biological agents can distinguish between left and right isomers

Now isn't that just dandy? Non-life cannot isolate one or the other.
Just another little pin-prick of reality that life could not have sprung up from the ground/pond-scum/clay shelves/hot water vents all by itself via purely random chemical and physical processes.

All amino acids have a left handed chirality in biological systems, totally excluding the right handed version from working proteins. This preference does not occur in the man-made manufacture of amino acids - both are present and require expensive equipment and time to separate.
someone11235813
4 / 5 (4) Oct 22, 2016
Finding life on mars is huge, it cannot be stressed enough how immense are the implications. Life on Mars were it to be found would either be directly linked to life on Earth, meaning that it developed on Mars first and somehow got to Earth, or vice versa, OR it is life that has independently occurred. This is so important and either situation has such profound consequences that, until we can get absolutely and unequivocally unambiguous evidence that life had existed, (or still exists way below the surface) that equivocal speculation is simply annoying. It will not be that long before we get humans to Mars who will be able to ascertain once and for all until then I'm prepared to discount any equivocal theorised evidence.
rhoffman
3 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2016
Not much here, really. Most agreeable is the last sentence, that all future experiments are already contaminated.

But anyway, even if there were already any living organisms on Mars when the Viking probes got there, they probably came from Earth after an asteroid impact knocked them off our planet (or, conceivably, vice-versa). Even the simplest living thing has a DNA chain so complex, that its random occurrence even once in this universe -- not just this solar system -- was statistically unlikely -- despite the recent conclusion that there are perhaps 10 times more galaxies in it than previously supposed. Yet somehow we exist. Be glad, and cherish all living things.
RobertWalker
3 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2016
Yes this adds to the evidence that perhaps Viking found life. I wonder why Levin didn't mention Joseph Miller's detection of rhythms in the Viking data, reanalysed, that are offset relative to the temperature forcing in a way that strongly suggests life. It was research that got several scientists to rethink the possibility that they found life.

I would not agree that future experiments are necessarily contaminated myself. It's a matter of probability. Yes they had up to 300,000 spores per spacecraft. However that's on launch, reduced by the vacuum and cold of the transit to Mars, UV on Mars, day night cycles going to below the temperatures of dry ice at night, cosmic radiation etc. Some hardy spores surely still survive and are viable but it's a long way from that to say that they have reproduced. Especially since they would be microbes protected in minute cracks on the spacecraft, and especially if what Viking found was dormant life scattered in the dust.
RobertWalker
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 22, 2016
Protoplasmik, there are many ideas for in situ life detection. For some reason not much mention of optical methods - and I agree, it would be rather silly if there is actually life moving around purposefully in the medium and we don't know because we never looked. So far the main focus, since Viking, is on past life, and fossil microbes are often very controversial here on Earth and indeed in ALH84001 if that is what they were. So it's more understandable that they don't include very high power microscopes.

One problem with just looking is that the smallest cells are sub optical in size, so might not be seen with even a diffraction limited microscope. Especially if they are, say, RNA world cells, which is one hypothesis still viable for the structures imaged in ALH84001. Those are ancient of course, but such small cells might still have survived on Mars.

However as part of an overall package, it makes a lot of sense. I have seen one proposal, see if I can find it.
RobertWalker
3 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2016
There is this optical fluorescence technique, which they briefly mention is useful for in situ life detection on other planets

page 3 of Real-time In-situ Detection of Microbes

There is this one also, though the focus is on past life, they say that microscopy could be useful in context of other measurements.

page 77 of An Astrobiology Strategy for the Exploration of Mars

Discusses scanning near field optical microscopy. Also then goes on to say:

"Color optical (microscopic) imaging with a high resolution should also be used to provide context for any co-focused spectroscopic tools such as ultraviolet-excitation fluorescence, laser Raman, or other fine-scale techniques to perform chemical signature detection."
24volts
1 / 5 (3) Oct 22, 2016
You guys can start clicking the '1' button but after 40 years I really don't care if they ever find any microbes or not. It's way past time we should be sending buckets of microbes from earth there every time we go to start terraforming it so we can make it livable. It's going to take a long time to terraform it and we need to get started NOW!
RobertWalker
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 22, 2016
24volts ,there's an idea that if you drop microbes on an uninhabited planet it will somehow become inhabitable. But - think over this example. A half billion years or a billion years from now, Earth will get too hot for life, unless there are beings with technology who shade out the sun or move the Earth. So in that case suppose you come across a very hot planet like Earth, with just a bit of life left, extremophiles that can cope with extreme heat. If you drop a package of life from our present Earth on that planet, do you think it will turn into a second Earth? Of course not.

Well with Mars, its the same except it is too cold for abundant life like Earth. Was warm enough just for a few hundred million years. It's also lost most of its atmosphere somehow. Will just dropping Earth microbes on it turn it back into a habitable planet? No, it won't. It may well already have life, the remnants of whatever life was there originally.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (5) Oct 22, 2016
Well with Mars, its the same except it is too cold for abundant life like Earth.
to piggyback on that:

there is also no guarantee that they will survive due to the lack of atmosphere and radiation exposure, nor does Mars have the required habitat for their survival

nor is there a guarantee that they will evolve in a way that will be conducive to our life and well being, etc - mostly because Mars is a very different place than Earth

and lastly: if there is life already on Mars that is able to exist in the current conditions....

whereas the idea sounds neat, it only works in sci-fi books where there is no need to justify [x] with plausible logic or evidence from experimentation

i like the idea, but i also know that simply exposing microbes to [x] doesn't mean we will get [y], otherwise everyone who got exposed to gamma radiation would turn into some kind of "hulk" - [sarcastic and satirical hyperbole intended]
RobertWalker
3 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2016
Oh on that last point, then apart from Levin's experiment, there are now many possible habitats for life on the Mars surface. Similar to habitats in the core of the Atacama desert and the McMurdo dry valleys in Antarctica. Very cold, very dry, yet life finds a way. Microbial life mainly though could include lichens. Amongst other possibilities
* Warm seasonal flows - seeps of salty brine, even in equatorial regions, grow through the year, fade away in autumn, may be some close to where Curiosity is.
* Droplets on salt / ice interfaces. Form very readily in Nilton Renno's teams Mars simulation experiments
* Just grow without water in the 100% night time humidity, which also can be enhanced in pores in salt pillars into the day.
* A layer of perhaps 1 - 2 cms of pure fresh water beneath transparent ice seasonally in Richardson crater - one of two possible models for flow like features, other involves interstatial films
* Moving sand dunes bioreactor.
Several more, from last 8 years
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2016
All amino acids have a left handed chirality in biological systems, totally excluding the right handed version from working proteins. This preference does not occur in the man-made manufacture of amino acids - both are present and require expensive equipment and time to separate.

LH chirality - here on EARTH. Doesn't mean RH can't occur elsewhere.
Ubiquitousnewt
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2016
If this article correctly reports that the GCMS required a million or more cells - that's huge, bordering on ridiculous, depending on the volume tested. Typical GCMS is what, a few microliters? Autotrophic bacteria are frequently, at best, a half million *per milliliter*. You'd have to run hundreds of sample trials. for the best case scenario, maybe thousands if the sample was a couple of orders of magnitude lower than a lab culture, and why wouldn't it be?
Ubiquitousnewt
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2016
All amino acids have a left handed chirality in biological systems, totally excluding the right handed version from working proteins.


That's not accurate. Bacteria can and actually need to use certain D-amino acids.
Ojorf
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2016
As far as contamination goes, I think we have a classic catch-44, or some such thing.
If some microbes managed to hitch a ride over and are 'flourishing', fine, 24V and like minded individuals have their wish.
On the other hand if Mars already has life of its own I seriously doubt earth microbes will survive, but you never know. I just don't think they will be able to compete with things that have been living/evolving there for a long time.
baudrunner
1 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2016
@rhoffman said:
Even the simplest living thing has a DNA chain so complex, that its random occurrence even once in this universe -- not just this solar system -- was statistically unlikely -- despite the recent conclusion that there are perhaps 10 times more galaxies in it than previously supposed.
Wow! How wrong is that!?!? Methanogens are archaea. From the Wikipedia entry for Archaea: "These microbes (archaea; singular archaeon) are prokaryotes, meaning that they have no cell nucleus or any other membrane-bound organelles in their cells."

Get back to your creationist website or read some REAL SCIENCE.
baudrunner
3 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2016
@torbjorn_b_g_larsson said:
@baudrunner: Carbonaceous chondrite impactors are producing methane. Ring any bells as towards highest likelihood? Mars is famous for its many impacts...

Nope...

From the Wikipedia entry for Atmosphere of Mars: "It had been proposed that the methane might be replenished by meteorites entering the atmosphere of Mars, but researchers from Imperial College London found that the volumes of methane released this way are too low to sustain the measured levels of the gas."

Any other brilliant unresearched insights..?
24volts
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2016
24volts ,there's an idea that if you drop microbes on an uninhabited planet it will somehow become inhabitable.


Oh, I know the odds are really small but you have to start somewhere and if they sent a odd enough mix some of them might stay alive and start reproducing there. We have some pretty odd bacteria on this planet in places.
BurnBabyBurn
3 / 5 (4) Oct 24, 2016
baudrunner 1 /5 (1) Oct 23, 2016
@torbjorn_b_g_larsson said:

Any other brilliant unresearched insights..?


What an arrogant POS! TBGL has forgotten more real science than you will ever learn you braying oxygen thief.

Looks like PO has sunk to the level of the Daily Mirror. A favorite technique of theirs is to trot out an old article and republish it without any dating references so that people assume it's new material. This is totally recycled, and from this site. http://phys.org/n...ars.html
bschott
1 / 5 (3) Oct 25, 2016
baudrunner 1 /5 (1) Oct 23, 2016
@torbjorn_b_g_larsson said:

Any other brilliant unresearched insights..?


[q}

Looks like PO has sunk to the level of the Daily Mirror. A favorite technique of theirs is to trot out an old article and republish it without any dating references so that people assume it's new material. This is totally recycled, and from this site. http://phys.org/n...ars.html

Yeah, other than different journals of publication, different authors of the original paper and nothing but a loose connection because of the topic....it's exactly the same ( another brilliant insight...keep em coming)
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (2) Oct 26, 2016
A favorite technique of theirs is to trot out an old article and republish it without any dating references so that people assume it's new material
@BurnBabyBurn
as much as i hate to defend them in light of their new pro-troll, pro-pseudoscience policies... i don't think this is the case

a lot of posted articles are automated

PO is simply a news aggregate. somewhere to get the latest news in one place rather than surfing 100 different sites. in that they are marginally better than the Daily Mirror (at least the news is usually science and relevant)

most repeats that i've seen are being rehashed from the parent site and simply re-submitted by the site, thus show up again here at PO
OR
they're submissions of the same or similar articles about the same topic or news from multiple sources, which can sometimes be simply repeated same articles or historical articles reprinted for awareness or media promotion
rhoffman
not rated yet Oct 26, 2016
From the Wikipedia page on "Archaea": "The tiny 490,885 base-pair genome of Nanoarchaeum equitans is...the smallest archaeal genome known; it is estimated to contain only 537 protein-encoding genes."

On the same Wikipedia page: "Woese argued that this group of prokaryotes is a fundamentally different sort of life." So is it really "life" at all? That depends on how strict one's definition is of the phrase "fundamentally different"! (Or more specifically, on one's definition of "life".)

But regardless, assuming that it got put together by random chance, I asked a statistical question: "What are the chances it happened twice in this universe, let alone, twice in this solar system?" It is much more likely any "life" on Mars came directly from earth, after an asteroid impact.

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