Fifteen years ago when scientists postulated that a Martian meteorite named Allan Hills might contain evidence of microscopic fossils of bacteria, the news was received with a mixture of astonishment and skepticism. This week, NASA researchers supported that theory by finding evidence that suggests nucleobases - the building blocks of genetic material - do exist in certain meteorites.
“People have been discovering components of DNA in meteorites since the 1960s, but researchers were unsure whether they were really created in space or if instead they came from contamination by terrestrial life," observed Dr. Michael Callahan, lead author of a study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported the Atlantic. "For the first time, we have three lines of evidence that together give us confidence these DNA building blocks actually were created in space."
But the researchers went further. These building blocks, they noted in their NASA-funded study,“may have served as a molecular kit providing essential ingredients for the origin of life on Earth and possibly elsewhere."
The discovery -- and the idea that our planet is part of an infinitely vast interstellar ecosystem -- is astonishing, but alas it came at a time of great social turmoil here on earth. It was buried on the proverbial page 3.
Yet it may very well be that a few decades from now, when we look back at 2011, the pivotal moment in human history is not mass starvation in the Sub-Saharan regions due to global warming, nor that the United States as a global empire staggered toward its collapse, nor that Europe went up in flames due to social inequity, but that, in the long view of man’s arduous history, the discovery that DNA came from space gave him a new and profound insight into his relationship with, and his appreciation of, the cosmos.
After all, none of the major religions came close to the idea of panspermia (a Greek word meaning “all seeding”), or the interstellar exchange of DNA, a hypothesis that was championed by Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of the DNA molecule with two other scientists last century. If scientists laughed behind the Nobel laureate’s back when he first suggested it, no one is laughing now.
Read the rest here: In Case You Missed It -- NASA Finds DNA in Space - New America Media
Andrew Lam is author of "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres" and "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora." His next book, "Birds of Paradise," is due out in 2013.