27 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Xenobiology And XNA

Xenobiology, also known as astrobiology and exobiology, is the study of alien life, including how life may have originated on Earth. It encompasses physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, and biology. Technically, xenobiology has nothing to study other than Earth itself--planets are continually being discovered, but they're very far away. However, research into the history of development of life on this planet has begun to yield possibilities for how it may have formed on others.

A new development in the field of xenobiology is XNA. DNA is the fundamental building block of life on Earth, so messing with it is obviously an idea with some risks involved. XNA, a synthetic material that stands for xeno nucleic acids, could be an interesting solution toward designing new life and preventing damage to existing DNA. It can store information the same way DNA can, and has the potential for being the basis of new life--but if two organisms, one with DNA and the other XNA, interacted, they could come into contact without affecting the other's genetic material, acting as a so-called "genetic firewall".

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Sources:
http://www.xenology.info/Papers/Xenobiology.htm
http://www.redorbit.com/education/reference_library/space_1/space_sciences/2574862/xenobiology_exobiology/
http://education-portal.com/articles/Xenobiology_Education_Requirements_and_Career_Information.html
https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/exobiology/about/
https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/about-astrobiology/
http://www.universetoday.com/46851/exobiology/
http://www.chem.duke.edu/~jds/cruise_chem/Exobiology/
http://www.accessexcellence.org/WN/NM/miller.php
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9941-instant-expert-astrobiology.html
http://scienceblogs.com/oscillator/2010/04/07/xenobiology/
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2909387/
http://io9.com/5903221/meet-xna-the-first-synthetic-dna-that-evolves-like-the-real-thing

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Would you be comfortable with synthetic organisms existing alongside natural ones? Do you think humanity will ever come into contact with alien life?


-----The Golden Eagle

27 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Messing with genetics is still a scary thing.

JeffO said...

I think we'll make 'alien life' before we find it out there.

Pat Hatt said...

We may find the dumb aliens like micrsopic things, but smart ones, nope. They'll find us or already have and are avoiding us. And yeah genetics can sure turn out many bad things.

mshatch said...

Astrobiology is an interesting subject. I actually recently took a free class through Coursera which was not only fascinating but very helpful with my scifi wip.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I don't like the idea of messing with DNA. Too many chances for things to go wrong. We already have superbugs from use of antibiotics.
Alien life? Not for a long time.

Carole Anne Carr said...

Fascinating stuff. Always wonder where it will eventually lead.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I think too many things could go wrong.

Michael Di Gesu said...

I think messing with DNA can get ugly. As for aliens... you bet they are observing us... i honestly believe that.

Susan Kane said...

Some things should not happen, and this might be one of them.

Ingrid Engen said...

Interesting post. I've not heard of XNA before, but it's a fascinating idea. I can see the temptation for messing around with it, but I'm skeptical of agreeing to it myself. I think, as others have said, we'd be asking for trouble.

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Elaine Smith said...

I hadn't heard about XNA before but it sounds fascinating. Investigation always takes imagination and a leap of -scientific -faith.
The latest deep space picture of, seemingly, habitable planets suggest we could - one day - have something but us to study.

Andrew Leon said...

I was really tempted to re-visit this one from last year but, ultimately, decided not to.

Liz said...

Synthetic organisms? Hmmm. Wow. What would that be like?

Yeah, I'm going to have to ponder that one a while.

Krista McLaughlin said...

Definitely a cool one for X! I wonder if they really will be able to study those other planets in detail someday. :)

Jagoda said...

I see the makings of a sci-fi movie or book here--a DNA/XNA mixed being attacks a city!
Jagoda

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi GE .. I hadn't heard of XNA before - so this makes fascinating reading .. and I'm so pleased you used it for your X post ..

Thanks - cheers Hilary

shelly said...

I have to agree with Alex on messing with genetics.

As for finding alien life, maybe that's who we are.

Hugs and chocolate,
Shelly

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

What has really fascinated me is the discovery of prions--that apparently rogue proteins can effect changes in us without involving nucleic acids. And even viruses are just bits of nucleic acid in a protein coat--they rely on other organisms to reproduce. I think that our definition and understanding of Earth life is still evolving.

And yes, I do think there is life elswhere in the universe, almost certainly microbial life at least. I think there's a decent chance we'll find evidence of it someday. I'm more skeptical about the existence of complex organisms, but I don't dismiss the idea. And to what extent extraterrestrial life resembles Earth life--that's a big open question.

Rusty Webb said...

Ever? Sure, I might as well say yes. I'm still not against the idea that they're might be a shadow biosphere here on earth right now.

Carol Riggs said...

Very interesting! I'd never heard of XNA. The idea of a "genetic firewall" is very cool too. Thanks for the informative post!

Silvia Villalobos said...

That is a great word ... and such interesting and fun facts. Didn't know about the study of alien life in these terms and with an actual word assigned to the study itself.

Great stuff.

Silvia @ Silvia Writes

DWei said...

I'd rather become a cyborg than a genetic monstrosity.

Juliet Bond said...

Just stopping by for the A-Z Challenge. Please check us out and sign up to follow if you like what you see. Juliet atCity Muse Country Muse

The Golden Eagle said...

Alex: Agreed.

JeffO: At this pace, I wouldn't doubt it.

Pat: I certainly don't blame aliens for avoiding humanity. :P

Mshatch: I found an astrobiology course on Coursera that looked interesting--but there weren't an scheduled sessions. I hope they do it again.

Susan: Good example of a risk involved.

Carole: I do, too. Pure research is great, but sometimes the results are surprising.

Diane: Messing with fundamental building blocks certainly has potential problems involved.

Michael: I think there are aliens out there in the universe, too. It's terrifying to think we're all alone.

Susan: Perhaps.

Ingrid: It's definitely not something scientists should just run into and try to create whatever the heck they can.

Elaine: I wish I could see that day. But I probably will be long dead by that point in society's development.

Andrew: Aw, I would have liked to read one of your posts revisiting the subjects. But your new topics are at least as interesting.

Liz: Who knows. It's still in its very early stages right now.

Krista: I hope they will be!

Jagoda: I'd totally watch that. And then probably cringe at the presentation of science, but oh well . . .

Hilary: Thank you! I thought readers might find it intriguing.

Shelly: Maybe. It's possible our biological beginnings started from remains of some other life in the universe deposited on Earth.

Jennifer: We've been on this planet for so long and we're still figuring out so many of its functions. There are fascinating studies out there!

Indeed it is.

Rusty: Had to Google shadow biosphere, since I'd never heard of it before--what an interesting theory.

Carol: You're very welcome! :)

Silvia: I love the word as well. It sounds like an exotic field--which it is.

DWei: Resistance is futile!

(Okay, I couldn't help a Borg/Star Trek reference.)

Juliet: Hello! Thanks for stopping by.

Mac Isbell said...

One of my favorite topics, Eagle! No, I dont think I would feel too comfortable!

Paul Tobin said...

Not sure. I think its an interesting subject to be sure. I hope their are aliens out there.

The Golden Eagle said...

Mac: There are certainly risks.

Paul: I do, too!