Nasa finds new form of DNA in search for alien life

Scientists financed by Nasa have developed a new type of DNA – like structure that can store and transmit information – and can lead to new ways to find alien life.

The discovery suggests that there may be alternative, unimagined forms of DNA – based life like one on Earth. Nasa experts suggested that life in other worlds could be built using different molecular systems of the kind developed by researchers in the laboratory.

The new molecular system will enable scientists seeking life elsewhere in the universe to reflect on what they are actually looking for, researchers said.

DNA is a complex molecule that allows us to store and transmit the genetic information we need. In every living thing on earth, this information is passed from parent to offspring and allows life to grow and thrive.

It consists of four different ingredients, called nucleotides by scientists, which are common throughout our planet’s life. But the new research suggests that they may vary elsewhere in the universe.

Imagining forms of life that might use different structures – and developing ways of detecting them – is a central part of Nasa’s work. The new project that has not only envisioned but created such a molecule.

“Life detection is an increasingly important goal of NASA’s planetary science missions, and this new work will help us to develop effective instruments and experiments that will expand the scope of what we look for,” Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division of NASA, said.

The new research has seen scientists create a new type of molecule system that works like DNA, but has a significant difference. It contains eight instead of the usual four ingredients.

It has all four found on earth in life: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. But it has four additional, synthetic, ingredient structures found in regular DNA.

The researchers call the new creation “hachimoji” DNA – hachi means eight in Japanese, and moji means letter. It works the same as our DNA and meets the same requirements for the storage and transmission of information.

This meant that the types of molecules that could store information on alien worlds in life could be similarly different. It suggests that life on the most fundamental level could structure itself in different ways than it does on Earth-meaning that environments in which life is bound to Earth could never live could be full of unimagined forms of life.

“Incorporating a broader understanding of what is possible in our instrument design and mission concepts will result in a more inclusive and, therefore, more effective search for life beyond Earth,” said Mary Voytek, senior scientist for Astrobiology at NASA Headquarters.

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