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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Alien Nation, Redux 

I've written before about extra-terrestrial life. An essay in the current issue of PLOS Biology examines how we might identify and detect alien life, raising a number of interesting points. Unfortunately, the author falls into the same old trap, of assuming that all life has to be made up of the same basic materials that we're made of: carbon, nitrogen, water. Even the passing mention of possible silicon and ammonia-based life implies an unimaginative bias: silicon is carbon's big brother, ammonia could be water's. They have similar properties, and could interact as carbon and water do.

Why no consideration of something utterly alien, I ask. The basic definition of life, something which displays metabolism/entropy resistance and self-replication, could take any number of forms. I agree with Mr. McKay, how we find and identify life is a critical question, but I am unwilling to accept his limited criteria.

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