ITT: Speculate wildly about alien life! (merged threads)

For the discussion of the sciences. Physics problems, chemistry equations, biology weirdness, it all goes here.

Moderators: gmalivuk, Moderators General, Prelates

User avatar
SpazzyMcGee
Posts: 191
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:36 am UTC

ITT: Speculate wildly about alien life! (merged threads)

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Mon May 11, 2009 12:58 am UTC

Can microorganisms from alien worlds infect Earth biology and vice versa?

On the one hand life on both worlds might operate in totally different ways. Exobiology may offer foreign diseases nothing, especially if the difference is as drastic as carbon vs silicon based life. Star Trek is an example of a universe where alien diseases are non-issue. Humans beam down to newly discovered world all the time and non-human crew members live and work on human crewed ships increasing the amount of time diseases have to adapt to alien biology.

On the other hand Earth life would have no sort of immunity to invasive extraterrestrial microorganisms. A parallel can be drawn with the European contact with native Americans leading to millions of native American deaths. In science fiction the invading Martians in War of the Worlds get wiped out by Earth's microorganisms.

So my question to you is, how would we deal with extraterrestrial life? Should we come across an alien world as diverse with life as Earth would we explore it like captain Kirk or put it into galactic quarantine like in Xenocide? Will we ever be able to mingle with intelligent extraterrestrials face to face or will we always have to wear air tight suits during handshakes?

User avatar
Sir_Elderberry
Posts: 4206
Joined: Tue Dec 04, 2007 6:50 pm UTC
Location: Sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha
Contact:

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Mon May 11, 2009 1:11 am UTC

SpazzyMcGee wrote:On the one hand life on both worlds might operate in totally different ways. Exobiology may offer foreign diseases nothing, especially if the difference is as drastic as carbon vs silicon based life. Star Trek is an example of a universe where alien diseases are non-issue. Humans beam down to newly discovered world all the time and non-human crew members live and work on human crewed ships increasing the amount of time diseases have to adapt to alien biology.

What? They get diseases from the Planet of the Week all the time, not to mention throwaway references to things like "Altarian Flu" or some such thing.

While I feel that we should certainly be careful were we to find truly alien life, my completely non-credentialed opinion is that if it's close enough related to us to infect us, our biologies are probably capable of countering it. Of course, smallpox is the test case here--really, you want to make sure to get on the phone with the alien medical people and get your shots.
http://www.geekyhumanist.blogspot.com -- Science and the Concerned Voter
Belial wrote:You are the coolest guy that ever cooled.

I reiterate. Coolest. Guy.

Well. You heard him.

User avatar
SpazzyMcGee
Posts: 191
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:36 am UTC

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Mon May 11, 2009 1:19 am UTC

Sir_Elderberry wrote:What? They get diseases from the Planet of the Week all the time, not to mention throwaway references to things like "Altarian Flu" or some such thing.

I suppose you're right. I didn't remember much in the way of alien diseases and I was only really thinking about the classical episode where the Enterprise's crew beams down to a never before seen world without even a moment's thought about pathogens.

I suppose contracting a disease from alien biology would be like contracting a disease from the most radically different forms of multicellular organisms on Earth, like plants. I have never heard of a plant disease becoming a human one so that gives credit to the Star Trek scenario. However it only takes one bug to make the transition and millions of humans will likely die. It might be a rare occurrence, but I very much doubt sci-fi scenarios where aliens and humans walk around right next to each other will ever happen. The longer we would be around each other the greater the chance of a disease mutating.

qetzal
Posts: 862
Joined: Thu May 01, 2008 12:54 pm UTC

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby qetzal » Mon May 11, 2009 1:57 am UTC

I think it mostly depends on whether you'd expect alien life to be similar to Earth life in certain key characteristics.

For example, all Earth life depends on L-amino acids and D-ribo- and deoxyribonucleosides. In general, D-amino acids and L-ribonucleotides can't be metabolized or otherwise used by known life.

If we extrapolate further and imagine alien organisms that depend on things other than amino acids, DNA, and RNA as macromolecular components, I think it would be very unlikely that they could infect an Earth organism, or vice versa. Neither would find the other to be a suitable source of food.

OTOH, if there's some as yet undiscovered reason that any life would likely use the same basic components that we do, then the possibility of an alien infection would be much higher.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon May 11, 2009 2:44 am UTC

Just from the standpoint of someone whose taken a few classes of Immunology, a good deal of our disease resistance simply comes from the bodies ability to recognize 'invader'. The vast majority of what you get exposed to is NOT something your body has specific responses for, that is, you haven't developed a specific immune response for. I forget the three major pathway's for recognizing non-specific invaders, but I recall marveling at how overarching and general they were. Innate and Specific I think... One recognizes non-mammalian, the other recognizes previously exposed to... Anyway, the human immune system is an impressive beast.

I actually wouldn't worry too much about exposure to alien places. It wouldn't be that difficult to inoculate a Star Fleet cadet against a crazy diverse host of antigens, because just as only a small handful of the life on Earth is actually dangerously infectious to humans, there's no reason to assume that life elsewhere would be different. Stuff that is dangerous to us on Earth is primarily dangerous to us because it has evolved WITH us, to infect us.

So in short, yes, if alien biology was specific enough to infect carbon lifeforms that utilized L- chirality amino acids and maintained lipid bilayer cell divisions (Among some other requirements), then sure, it'd potentially pose a threat. But it'd be pretty distinctly similar to life as we know it.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

User avatar
Sir_Elderberry
Posts: 4206
Joined: Tue Dec 04, 2007 6:50 pm UTC
Location: Sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha
Contact:

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Mon May 11, 2009 2:47 am UTC

Of course, there's that episode with the giant space amoeba, but I'm not sure that quite applies.
http://www.geekyhumanist.blogspot.com -- Science and the Concerned Voter
Belial wrote:You are the coolest guy that ever cooled.

I reiterate. Coolest. Guy.

Well. You heard him.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon May 11, 2009 2:52 am UTC

Also to point out, we live side by side with a number of non-human species, and while disease crossovers or crossinfections happen, and can be quite deadly (See HIV, Ebola, Rabies...), they are fairly rare.

I suppose it's not very helpful to say, but I wouldn't be surprised if any given ecosystem, no matter how alien (within reason), had a couple of human infectious agents. I also wouldn't be surprised if an ecosystem didn't produce warm blooded vertebrates, it wouldn't have anything that could infect humans.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

User avatar
Vieto
Posts: 1558
Joined: Sun Jun 22, 2008 10:44 pm UTC
Location: Canada

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Vieto » Mon May 11, 2009 3:08 am UTC

Personally, I think that in most cases, even on a planet such as Felucia from starwars, few of the diseases would be compatible with people, and cures may be found rather quickly (though larger databases would be needed, albeit), so I see little worry.

We don't usually catch diseases from pigs, for instance (Swine flu being an obvious exception, but that's an outlier).

User avatar
Cryopyre
Posts: 701
Joined: Wed Aug 15, 2007 4:00 am UTC
Location: A desert

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Cryopyre » Mon May 11, 2009 3:28 am UTC

This reminds me of the story Destiny's Road by Larry Niven. Alien life on the planet found one particular element, potassium, to be extremely poisonous. Humans, however required it, so they harvested a plant that had, ironically, evolved it as a defense against the native life.
Felstaff wrote:I actually see what religion is to social, economical and perhaps political progress in a similar way to what war is to technological progress.

Gunfingers wrote:Voting is the power to speak your mind. You, apparently, had nothing to say.

User avatar
gmalivuk
GNU Terry Pratchett
Posts: 26818
Joined: Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:02 pm UTC
Location: Here and There
Contact:

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby gmalivuk » Mon May 11, 2009 4:33 am UTC

Meteorswarm wrote:more virulent but less deadly

More infectious, perhaps, but I don't think virulent. Doesn't virulence tie in with mortality rate, being as it's the ability of a pathogen to cause loss of fitness in the host?

Cryopyre wrote:This reminds me of the story Destiny's Road by Larry Niven. Alien life on the planet found one particular element, potassium, to be extremely poisonous. Humans, however required it, so they harvested a plant that had, ironically, evolved it as a defense against the native life.

Yeah, I'd be a lot more worried about chemicals that are an integral part of the life cycle of one planet, which are toxic on another. The advantage is of course that such chemicals can't multiply themselves inside someone and continue to be spread in the susceptible population after the original quantity has been used up.
Unless stated otherwise, I do not care whether a statement, by itself, constitutes a persuasive political argument. I care whether it's true.
---
If this post has math that doesn't work for you, use TeX the World for Firefox or Chrome

(he/him/his)

User avatar
Cryopyre
Posts: 701
Joined: Wed Aug 15, 2007 4:00 am UTC
Location: A desert

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Cryopyre » Mon May 11, 2009 4:41 am UTC

Good point.
Felstaff wrote:I actually see what religion is to social, economical and perhaps political progress in a similar way to what war is to technological progress.

Gunfingers wrote:Voting is the power to speak your mind. You, apparently, had nothing to say.

Busdriver
Posts: 24
Joined: Mon Feb 02, 2009 11:04 pm UTC

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Busdriver » Mon May 11, 2009 4:56 am UTC

Meteorswarm wrote:If an alien disease did manage to infect us (in my opinion, a ridiculously unlikely proposition since we don't even get most reptile, fish or bird diseases, much less alien ones), it would probably not have a strong gene flow with its parent population, and would rapidly become less infectious, indeed, probably before it could kill more than a few million people.


Don't forget about the bird flu! And there are a lot of parasites that can live in both fish and humans. But you still have a good point, as diseases become much less common as you move further away from humans. Speaking as someone who knows almost nothing about this sort of thing, it seems unlikely that alien diseases would be a problem.

Carnildo
Posts: 2023
Joined: Fri Jul 18, 2008 8:43 am UTC

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Carnildo » Mon May 11, 2009 5:05 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I actually wouldn't worry too much about exposure to alien places. It wouldn't be that difficult to inoculate a Star Fleet cadet against a crazy diverse host of antigens, because just as only a small handful of the life on Earth is actually dangerously infectious to humans, there's no reason to assume that life elsewhere would be different. Stuff that is dangerous to us on Earth is primarily dangerous to us because it has evolved WITH us, to infect us.

So in short, yes, if alien biology was specific enough to infect carbon lifeforms that utilized L- chirality amino acids and maintained lipid bilayer cell divisions (Among some other requirements), then sure, it'd potentially pose a threat. But it'd be pretty distinctly similar to life as we know it.


I'd be worried about things like an alien lichen: something that photosynthesizes so it doesn't need to be biologically compatible, and simply uses your body for mechanical support. If it anchors itself strongly enough, it'll be hard to wash off, and it's likely that some of the waste products will be poisonous (say, something that excretes hydrogen cyanide).

User avatar
smw543
Posts: 1248
Joined: Thu Oct 23, 2008 4:45 am UTC
Location: Orlando, Florida

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby smw543 » Mon May 11, 2009 8:22 am UTC

Busdriver wrote:And there are a lot of parasites that can live in both fish and humans.
I was just about to mention parasites before I noticed your post. Anyways, while parasites would probably be more of an issue in cases of particularly foreign lifeforms (unlike viruses, which need some level of compatibility with the host's DNA, many parasites can take root in damn near any type of meatbag that stumbles by), transmitting most parasites wouldn't be a big problem. Most dangerous parasites (I'm thinking here of intercellular parasites like worms) gain entry to a host by being consumed. As long as we don't eat any of their food, or eat them (IT'S A COOKBOOK!) we should be OK. There are also some dangerous ectoparasites that can be transmitted by touch, but we don't really have to shake their hands. (If their equivalent to dust mites are particularly voracious, we could have an issue, but nothing simple precautions should have trouble with.)

Unless of course the parasite is something drastically different from what we know on Earth, which I suppose isn't that unlikely. And the definition of parasite is rather vague. Perhaps the aliens are being controlled by the parasite, with orders to find their microscopic taskmasters a new host species? (Or not.)
Izawwlgood wrote:Anyway, the human immune system is an impressive beast.
Also this.
Spoiler:
LE4dGOLEM wrote:Now you know the difference between funny and sad.
Ubik wrote:But I'm too fond of the penis to let it go.
gmalivuk wrote:If you didn't want people to 'mis'understand you, then you probably should have tried saying something less stupid.

svans
Posts: 4
Joined: Tue Apr 21, 2009 9:54 am UTC
Location: Sweden

Astrobiology speculations

Postby svans » Mon May 11, 2009 12:38 pm UTC

When we travel to other planets (the moon), we are generally pretty careful not to bring anything living. Presumably the idea behind this is that we don't want to disturb any existing life.
But what if we deliberately introduced some hardy microorganisms to another planet/moon. There doesn't seem to be any evidence of life on the moon. Would it be terribly unethical to do this?

Wouldn't it be neat to have this kind of macro-experiment running. What would some new evolved traits be for microorganisms on the moon? And also, is there any microorganism (be it bacteria, archea or eukaryotes) that would be able to multiply on the surface of another planet?

/cheerio

sgt york
Posts: 331
Joined: Mon Oct 01, 2007 7:21 pm UTC
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Contact:

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby sgt york » Mon May 11, 2009 1:34 pm UTC

Step 1 : Get some stuff up there
Step 2 : Darwin
Step 3 : Triffids

=====
Edit: Good novel that uses Izawwlgood's idea is Spin. Good book aside form that as well, but a neat perspective on those lines.
Last edited by sgt york on Mon May 11, 2009 2:52 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon May 11, 2009 2:41 pm UTC

I am fully in support of the notion of using extant lifeforms, or even GMOs, to colonize other planets. Life is very very very very very good at making environments that are habitable for more life, and they can do it with very little monitoring by humans. Why, WHY, would you try to colonize a planet via hauling massive amounts of reactants and catalysts and factories and energy sources to grind and chug along, when all you have to do is set up a bunch of small, self-sustaining and self-propagating pockets.

I don't believe 'ethics' comes into play. I would assume that all life in our solar system to be from the same origin, which is a large supposition to be sure. But so long as we were careful with what we released and maintained, I see no reason to limit our actions. Furthermore, spores can survive much worse then the rigors of space, so the very act of placing remote robotics on distant planets (Mars, in Europa's waters, for example) means we've contaminated it with Earth. But so what? All that means is it becomes more difficult to study potential life on those planets/moons. It's kind of a catch-22; Astrobiology wants to study extra-terriestrial life, but can't do so without introducing terrestrial life.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

User avatar
gmalivuk
GNU Terry Pratchett
Posts: 26818
Joined: Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:02 pm UTC
Location: Here and There
Contact:

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby gmalivuk » Mon May 11, 2009 3:51 pm UTC

I suppose the previously mentioned lichen example is a kind of ectoparasite that wouldn't need any biological compatibility to work. But endoparasites can only survive inside you if they're getting the nutrients they need from your body or your food. If we are chemically very different from the alien life, this seems rather unlikely to be the case, so I don't expect an alien endoparasite would last long inside a human.

(It is true that among Earth life parasites can infect a wider range of organisms than bacteria or viruses, but that's because even if our body chemistry varies a bit from the original host, we're probably eating things that are similar enough to continue supporting the parasite. Fish parasites do tend to be more painful in humans than they seem to be in the fish, though, largely due to different immune responses from us and fish.)
Unless stated otherwise, I do not care whether a statement, by itself, constitutes a persuasive political argument. I care whether it's true.
---
If this post has math that doesn't work for you, use TeX the World for Firefox or Chrome

(he/him/his)

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon May 11, 2009 4:12 pm UTC

I think beyond bacteria living in whatever environment loosely fits their life range, it's a fairly safe statement to make that parasites of any kind are able to parasitize because they have coevolved with what they are sucking on.

I guess if we fell within the range of a critters ability to survive inside us (think burrowing worm or gut bug), it's not any more of a leap to assume that we'd likely be able to fight it off.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

User avatar
Omegaton
Posts: 700
Joined: Sun Apr 19, 2009 6:23 pm UTC

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Omegaton » Mon May 11, 2009 6:45 pm UTC

Something that's developed over the course of this topic is that there are a variety of organsmic interactions that can cause disease or disease-like symptoms. Viruses, single-celled organisms ie. bacteria and the odd eukaryotic parasite such as Plasmodium, and multi-cellular parasitic animals such as tapeworms would all have different abilities to infect alternate hosts. I'd give the highest chance to the bacteria and such, since we all know we can raise those in petri dishes, which is a pretty general acceptability for their environment.

An alternative way to think of it is not of the unknown diseases and parasites and their ability to host in us, but whether or not the diseases and parasites we know could host in aliens. As has been already raised in this topic, host specificity is an obvious concern. Sure, we can expect to catch diseases that affect other vertebrates, and we even have a few parasites that require living within intermediate invertebrate hosts, but I don't know of diseases that pass between plants and fungi. By generally accepted biology (and ignoring theories that aliens brought life to Earth), we'd be more closely related to Archaeans and Bacteria on our own planet than any alien life forms. I doubt that there'd be much of a chance of catching an alien disease.

Another medical concern, as raised earlier in this topic, might come from general toxicity of organisms rather than any pathogenicity. Considering different organisms have different tolerance levels based on their environment, alien organisms could certainly harbor a vastly different chemical composition from life on Earth, and that composition could be outside of the tolerable range of our organisms.

Interesting question, though.

User avatar
justaman
Posts: 498
Joined: Thu Jan 31, 2008 1:53 am UTC
Location: in ur walls eatin' ur internets

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby justaman » Mon May 11, 2009 8:29 pm UTC

Vieto wrote:We don't usually catch diseases from pigs, for instance (Swine flu being an obvious exception, but that's an outlier).

Actually, the vast majority of influenza viruses are either avian or other mammal hosted (including the H5N1 "bird flu" and H1N1 "swine flu") originally. These viruses are typically asymptomatic and endemic in their natural hosts. The virulence comes from infecting things that are not natural hosts. The sections of genes that make up each virus, in the case of the "swine flu", the H1 component probably came from pigs, but the N1 possibly came from another flu virus that co-infected either a person or a pig. This H1N1 virus is the same as the 1918 "spanish flu".
Felstaff wrote:"deglove"? I think you may have just conjured the sickest image within my mind since I heard the term "testicle pop".

Brwagur
Posts: 81
Joined: Sat May 09, 2009 12:51 am UTC

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Brwagur » Tue May 12, 2009 12:02 am UTC

in The Martian Chronicles the Martians are wiped out by chicken pox. In one of the Space Odyssey books, an alien shark-thing that tries to eat a human corpse dies because of incompatible biochemistries. This is, of course fiction. I think the major danger really would be just in organisms that would use the human body purely for support, or as a nice, warm, gooey place to live. This is true of many earth pathogens, think "yeast infection," and even an inorganic lifeform (eg. tiny robots) could colonize a body, resulting in a deadly immune response. We produce an immune response to just about everything and odds are we'd respond to anything life happens to be made of.
That there is an 80's cell. See, it's got plasma legwarmers.

User avatar
Interactive Civilian
Posts: 468
Joined: Sun Jan 06, 2008 7:53 am UTC
Location: Bangkok, Krung Thep, Thailand
Contact:

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby Interactive Civilian » Tue May 12, 2009 12:56 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Why, WHY, would you try to colonize a planet via hauling massive amounts of reactants and catalysts and factories and energy sources to grind and chug along, when all you have to do is set up a bunch of small, self-sustaining and self-propagating pockets.

Because the latter would likely take hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years? On Earth, already habitable with environments "friendly" to life, primary succession (in ecology, basically the progression from bare rock to climax ecosystem) takes, at minimum, thousands of years. Now, imagine that in an environment that is not friendly to life, where there may not yet be easily accessible resources; succession would take much longer (here's a hint: on earth, it took about 3 billion years from the first single-celled life-forms to complex multi-cellular life-forms, and during all of that time, the life was "terraforming" the earth to be habitable for the more complex life-forms).

If you want to terraform a planet, it would still require hauling massive amounts of stuff, at the very least to feed your budding biosphere. Unless the planet is already almost habitable, playing "Johnny Appleseed" will not work unless you are willing to wait a VERY long time. If you want to terraform a planet, you will have to approach it from many different angles at the same time and try to synergize them to build a viable biosphere. Then, the time will pretty much depend on the initial conditions and how much terraforming needs to be done. For an interesting example of this, see Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars Trilogy" ("Red Mars", "Green Mars", and "Blue Mars"). I thought the time-frame was unrealistic, but the ideas were interesting.
I (x2+y2-1)3-x2y3=0 science.

tantalum
Posts: 221
Joined: Sun Jan 20, 2008 9:28 pm UTC
Location: cambridge, MA

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby tantalum » Tue May 12, 2009 1:22 am UTC

I would assume that all life in our solar system to be from the same origin, which is a large supposition to be sure.


That's kind of like saying, "If we assume 1=2,which is a large supposition to be sure..."

So what happens if indeed there was life on Mars, and we drive it to extinction? We completely ruin the best shot we had at learning about extraterrestrial life. In addition, if we contaminate it even a little bit, we would be forever skeptical of all positive results from Mars. "Biological compounds discovered on Mars!" - does this mean that we've found real life on mars, or that we've brought back some of our contanimants? We would never know, and in a way, that's even worse than knowing that we destroyed extraterrestrial life.

We can always run experiments in the lab, by say, growing bacteria in an artificial vacuum and bombarding them with gamma rays. It wouldn't be very hard to replicate moon conditions on the Earth.

As for colonizing other planets... I suspect this will never happen, at least without biomechanization. Anyone who thinks otherwise is vastly underestimating how accustomed we are to our own planet and the vast web of organisms that provide us with food.

User avatar
SpazzyMcGee
Posts: 191
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:36 am UTC

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Tue May 12, 2009 1:32 am UTC

So what I am getting out of this thread is that beaming down to an alien world will probably be OK if it was a necessary action. However chances are at least one bug might be infective, the longer you star around the alien biology the greater the chances of getting a disease, and if a disease crosses over it has a high probability of being deadly.

In short, bring your haz-mat suit when asking for a cup of sugar from E.T. to be safe.

qetzal
Posts: 862
Joined: Thu May 01, 2008 12:54 pm UTC

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby qetzal » Tue May 12, 2009 1:58 am UTC

SpazzyMcGee wrote:So what I am getting out of this thread is that beaming down to an alien world will probably be OK if it was a necessary action. However chances are at least one bug might be infective, the longer you star around the alien biology the greater the chances of getting a disease, and if a disease crosses over it has a high probability of being deadly.

In short, bring your haz-mat suit when asking for a cup of sugar from E.T. to be safe.


I don't think that's a safe conclusion at all. Unless the aliens have the same basic biochemistry that we do, I think there's very little chance there would be even one bug that's truly infective (as opposed to toxic). If biochemistry were the same, then there might well be infective bugs, but the probability that they'd be deadly is pure guesswork, IMO.

justaman wrote:This H1N1 virus is the same as the 1918 "spanish flu".


Just to be sure that no-one gets too panicky, the current swine flu is the same <i>subtype</i> (H1N1) as the 1918 Spanish flu, but it's not necessarily "the same as" the 1918 strain (e.g., see this.) Whether it has the potential to become a severe pandemic remains to be seen.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue May 12, 2009 2:02 am UTC

Interactive Civilian wrote:(here's a hint: on earth, it took about 3 billion years from the first single-celled life-forms to complex multi-cellular life-forms, and during all of that time, the life was "terraforming" the earth to be habitable for the more complex life-forms).


This is kind of moot, as I'm not trying to evolve life, just use it.

Interactive Civilian wrote:Because the latter would likely take hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years?


It's a matter of scales. If you throw millions of tons of hydrogen at a Sabatier reactor and have it happily chug along making water and methane, that's one solution. Another, is to throw millions of tons of hydrogen at a biological system and have it happily chug along. One goes faster, the other produces organic matter. I don't know how the time scales compare, but wouldn't be surprised if using a combination of industrial and biological processes actually gets used for the far off hypothetical colonization of our Red Planet.

Interactive Civilian wrote:or an interesting example of this, see Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars Trilogy" ("Red Mars", "Green Mars", and "Blue Mars"). I thought the time-frame was unrealistic, but the ideas were interesting.


I don't mean this so sound as huffy as I'm sure it will, but in our last debate on colonizing Mars, the one about remote robotic presences vs. human presences, I mentioned that the Mars Trilogy was a book series I loved. I also suggested reading The Case for Mars, by Robert Zubrin, a nutjob to be sure, but a man who both referenced, and is referenced by, Kim Stanley Robinson.

To note, Robinson uses industrial processes to thicken the atmosphere (the most notable of which involved aerobreaking a few large ice asteroids around Mars), and often references inflated greenhouses filled with plant matter as being oxygen generators for folk.

I'm not suggesting doing it entirely biotically, but I don't think it's hippy talk to suggest using biotic processes to accomplish the terraforming.

tantalum wrote:That's kind of like saying, "If we assume 1=2,which is a large supposition to be sure..."


Except there are a handful of supporting tidbits to indicate that what I said may be true, and you have nothing to assume that 2 ='s 1. So large assumption yes, but not an entirely unfounded one.

tantalum wrote:We would never know, and in a way, that's even worse than knowing that we destroyed extraterrestrial life.


I disagree. One involves us being on Mars and cranking along towards being able to use it, the other involves us staring at the Red Planet and wondering what's on it. There's virtually no way to get a presence capable of detecting life somewhere without the very real risk of contaminating that place with our own life. We'll have to refine our methods, and accept a certain degree of risk, or only look for very large and evident life.

tantalum wrote:We can always run experiments in the lab, by say, growing bacteria in an artificial vacuum and bombarding them with gamma rays. It wouldn't be very hard to replicate moon conditions on the Earth.
\

What are your experiments for exactly?
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

Brwagur
Posts: 81
Joined: Sat May 09, 2009 12:51 am UTC

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby Brwagur » Tue May 12, 2009 2:33 am UTC

i think it's a little bit egocentric to assume we even have the right to attempt to terraform another planet. we don't own them. the general rule is that you can only have jurisdiction over something that orbits you, at least that should be the rule... what about when, several billion years from now, when some Europan lifeform develops space travel? the solar system will have already been raped and pillaged by humans. albeit, that is very unlikely, and i sound really hippy-dippy-y, but the point is that we just can't go around claiming ownership of every hunk of rock in the galaxy.
That there is an 80's cell. See, it's got plasma legwarmers.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue May 12, 2009 2:55 am UTC

Brwagur wrote:i think it's a little bit egocentric to assume we even have the right to attempt to terraform another planet. we don't own them. the general rule is that you can only have jurisdiction over something that orbits you, at least that should be the rule...


I disagree. We shouldn't leave burning ruin in our path, but everything around us is ours, unless a conscious self-aware critter has it first. I don't see any, anywhere, so, I say we get terraforming.

I'll amend that. I think so long as we don't destroy extant ecosystems, we can get crackin' on anything in the Universe.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

User avatar
gmalivuk
GNU Terry Pratchett
Posts: 26818
Joined: Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:02 pm UTC
Location: Here and There
Contact:

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby gmalivuk » Tue May 12, 2009 3:15 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Except there are a handful of supporting tidbits to indicate that what I said may be true

Such as?
Unless stated otherwise, I do not care whether a statement, by itself, constitutes a persuasive political argument. I care whether it's true.
---
If this post has math that doesn't work for you, use TeX the World for Firefox or Chrome

(he/him/his)

User avatar
Omegaton
Posts: 700
Joined: Sun Apr 19, 2009 6:23 pm UTC

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Omegaton » Tue May 12, 2009 3:21 am UTC

SpazzyMcGee wrote:So what I am getting out of this thread is that beaming down to an alien world will probably be OK if it was a necessary action. However chances are at least one bug might be infective, the longer you star around the alien biology the greater the chances of getting a disease, and if a disease crosses over it has a high probability of being deadly.

In short, bring your haz-mat suit when asking for a cup of sugar from E.T. to be safe.

With that example, I'd be worried about an inhospitable environment than disease. How many times has Bear Grylls or Survivorman been dropped in a random non-civilized location and had to actually worry about disease as opposed to simply surviving? Alien worlds would allow for other habitats, some of them probably intolerable to us.

User avatar
semicharmed
Posts: 911
Joined: Fri Dec 19, 2008 12:04 am UTC
Contact:

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby semicharmed » Tue May 12, 2009 4:05 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Innate and Specific I think... One recognizes non-mammalian, the other recognizes previously exposed to... Anyway, the human immune system is an impressive beast.


Innate & acquired/adaptive is the terminology we were using in my principals of immunology class.
Innate is non-specific, and is a much "weaker" response, as it's not targeted. And works through macrophages, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, other phagocytes, etc. Has the potential to recognize anything that's non-self. Also plays a role in activation of the cells of the adaptive immune system.
Aquired works through the B & T cells, works on a memory basis. Because of V(D)J recombination, can potentially recognize a large variety of antigens. Portion of the immune system responsible for organ rejection.

And just because something causes an immune response in people doesn't mean it will necessarily make us sick. Quick example: materials implanted into soft tissue, like pacemakers or breast implants, will generally elicit an immune response - macrophages will surround and encapsulate the implant, isolating it from the rest of the body. But the macrophage response won't cause sickness - it's still an immune response, but not one in reaction to a disease-causing pathogen.
Although, on the converse, with few exceptions, things that can make us sick will be capable of causing an immune response.

I don't think we'll necessarily encounter that many diseases able to infect us, at least initially. When Europeans & native Americans met for the first time, and exchanged a ton of pathogens that only one group had developed resistance to, it was still two groups of the same species meeting. Human exploration of space, I think, will be a lot more similar to exploring extreme environments on earth (vents in the ocean floor) - a functional anaerobe who eats sulfur is unlikely to survive in human bodies that depend on oxygen and carbon-based carbohydrate fuel sources.

User avatar
SpazzyMcGee
Posts: 191
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:36 am UTC

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Tue May 12, 2009 4:11 am UTC

I don't think much can survive on the Moon. Even if you developed something that could resist the constant rearrangement of its DNA via cosmic radiation (highly doubt it could unless it lived underground, where then it has no source of energy) or even got it to survive off of the minerals available on the Moon (some sort of lichen I suppose) I highly doubt it would be able to do anything besides survive let alone multiply.

Mars is a more interesting subject matter. Seeing as how this thread has already been hijacked in this respect I don't have to do it myself.

Morality wise, I don't care. If we found life on Mars It would be wrong of us to snuff it out not because of some tree huggers sense of morality but because we would be destroying the most interesting thing in our solar system. We would learn so much by merely finding such an organism. Actually studying it would be down right miraculous.

If there is no life, then by all means slash and burn. Mine the place dry. Planets are nothing but floating clumps of matter. Why not use them for what they are worth? My only qualms (mind you it is a very large qualm) is that we would be loosing priceless data on said planets geology if we just tore it up. Take pictures of every ridge, take gravitational and seismic readings of every surface, take core samples of every terrain, and then rip it up. We will also be losing some awesome scenery, but again that is merely OUR resource. The only possible reason for us not to use the other planets as we see fit is if there is sentient life there where then it should be protected much like how we would have liked to be protected should they have developed first and been in the same position over our skies. If another planet has no sentient beings (not necessarily human level, chimp or dolphin would also be no gos) but had a complex biosphere I would say we should keep our hands off. However this wouldn't be because of any sense of "morality", it would be because the prospect of studying the evolution of another biosphere would be beyond priceless.

If mankind's survival depends on it however all bets are off. If humanity would go extinct if we didn't wipe out the sea people of Europa I would say drop the bomb. However I would like to have justification beyond our survival just to keep my composure in the decision. Have you ever read First and Last Men? In it mankind has to leave Earth because the Moon is about to hit it. They need to colonize Mars, but it is inhabited by another civilization of Venusians. It is discovered these Venusians live off radioactive material. In a few million years the entire biosphere would collapse as the radioactive material disappears. Humanity decides it is justified in wiping them out seeing as humans at least have a chance to carry on.

The rules in the Speaker of the Dead series are pretty good too. You know, the ramen and varhelieas or whatever. In short, if communication is possible peace should be sought. If communication is impossible or if one's survival is on the line violence is justified.

User avatar
gmalivuk
GNU Terry Pratchett
Posts: 26818
Joined: Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:02 pm UTC
Location: Here and There
Contact:

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby gmalivuk » Tue May 12, 2009 4:21 am UTC

SpazzyMcGee wrote:Morality wise, I don't care. If we found life on Mars It would be wrong of us to snuff it out not because of some tree huggers sense of morality but because we would be destroying the most interesting thing in our solar system.

You're still making a (moral) value judgment there, even if it's not based on the same values as "some tree hugger" has.
Unless stated otherwise, I do not care whether a statement, by itself, constitutes a persuasive political argument. I care whether it's true.
---
If this post has math that doesn't work for you, use TeX the World for Firefox or Chrome

(he/him/his)

User avatar
Interactive Civilian
Posts: 468
Joined: Sun Jan 06, 2008 7:53 am UTC
Location: Bangkok, Krung Thep, Thailand
Contact:

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby Interactive Civilian » Tue May 12, 2009 4:43 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I'm not suggesting doing it entirely biotically, but I don't think it's hippy talk to suggest using biotic processes to accomplish the terraforming.
Fair enough. i guess I simply misinterpreted this quote:
Izawwlgood wrote:Why, WHY, would you try to colonize a planet via hauling massive amounts of reactants and catalysts and factories and energy sources to grind and chug along, when all you have to do is set up a bunch of small, self-sustaining and self-propagating pockets.
I was under the impression that you were saying something similar to "Why bring along all the terraforming stuff when you can just Johnny Appleseed the place and then wait?"

Guess I misunderstood.

It seems that we are both in agreement that both biological and industrial methods would be required in terraforming a world.
I (x2+y2-1)3-x2y3=0 science.

User avatar
SpazzyMcGee
Posts: 191
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:36 am UTC

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Tue May 12, 2009 4:50 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
SpazzyMcGee wrote:Morality wise, I don't care. If we found life on Mars It would be wrong of us to snuff it out not because of some tree huggers sense of morality but because we would be destroying the most interesting thing in our solar system.

You're still making a (moral) value judgment there, even if it's not based on the same values as "some tree hugger" has.

No, saving a microorganism because you can learn a lot from it doesn't have much to do with morality. I mean it isn't a moral question about whether or not I should keep a TV program I am interested in on or not.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue May 12, 2009 6:20 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Such as?


I should rephrase. There isn't 'supporting evidence', there is 'suggestive evidence'. The notion that life originated via asteroids delivering requisite substances isn't too far fetched, and I *believe* supported by finding a variety of Miller compounds in asteroids, and there's A) some small portion of Mars material that finds its way to Earth, and B) probably a safe assumption that what fell to early or proto-Earth also fell to early or proto-Mars.

Interactive Civilian wrote:I was under the impression that you were saying something similar to "Why bring along all the terraforming stuff when you can just Johnny Appleseed the place and then wait?"


That's because I was hardly clear or concise. I'm driving at the notion that hauling out machinery and reactors and reactants is heavy, and life, though fickle, is superior to our technology in expanding upon itself. Coming up with solutions to human problems on hostile planets becomes far less daunting when you allow living systems to do some of the work for you.

SpazzyMcGee wrote:If there is no life, then by all means slash and burn. Mine the place dry. Planets are nothing but floating clumps of matter.


Why not cultivate and terraform? We don't have to maintain our sole population on Earth and treat everything else as a mining station. We should turn everything into whatever image we feel like. Also, geologically, Mars is literally a planets worth of data waiting to be studied.

SpazzyMcGee wrote:Mars is a more interesting subject matter. Seeing as how this thread has already been hijacked in this respect


Just as a suggestion, perhaps we don't only discuss Mars colonization in this thread? Venus, Luna, Europa, Titan, the skies of Jupiter, etc...?
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

User avatar
Tass
Posts: 1909
Joined: Tue Nov 11, 2008 2:21 pm UTC
Location: Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen.

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby Tass » Tue May 12, 2009 7:39 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Just as a suggestion, perhaps we don't only discuss Mars colonization in this thread? Venus, Luna, Europa, Titan, the skies of Jupiter, etc...?


...Interplanetary space...

Easier than the skies of jupiter, I would say, and more space.

User avatar
Link
Posts: 1419
Joined: Sat Mar 07, 2009 11:33 am UTC
Location: ᘝᓄᘈᖉᐣ
Contact:

Re: Infectivity of alien biology.

Postby Link » Tue May 12, 2009 10:38 am UTC

It's a bit hard to speculate about this because we really haven't much of a clue how alien life even could work, but I definitely think there is some risk. I expect the less advanced microbial lifeforms to be more dangerous than very complex ones. Alien microbes most probably won't get recognised by the immune system, and probably also won't recognise our biology, but they can still be dangerous. A microbe that can survive in our body without being detected may be able to metabolise common elements into dangerous substances. Suppose a microbe finds a nice environment in our lung fluids, and secretes, as Carnildo mentioned, HCN. It has enough access to the building blocks as hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen are extremely common in our atmosphere. Being in our lungs, we get immediate exposure to the cyanide. In other words: microbe nests in lungs, metabolises common gases, exudes HCN, bam: dead human.

While it's unlikely a truly alien lifeform produces proteins compatible with and toxic to our biology, there are several very simple molecules that easily kill us. It's also possible for alien microbes to transport chemicals from an area of our body they are normally found (e.g. iron in our stomachs as our foods are broken down), to a place they should absolutely _not_ be found in large quantities (iron in muscle/cardiac tissue).

User avatar
Roĝer
Posts: 445
Joined: Sun Oct 05, 2008 9:36 pm UTC
Location: Many worlds, but mostly Copenhagen.
Contact:

Re: Astrobiology speculations

Postby Roĝer » Tue May 12, 2009 10:58 am UTC

But a little short on building materials. Interplanetary space can never be used for more than supporting the bodies in it, by defence, transport, energy collection and building space. But the asteroid belt may be an option, although probably impractical.
Ik ben niet koppig, ik heb gewoon gelijk.


Return to “Science”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 10 guests