Did life on Earth start in space? Study finds evidence of panspermia

A new study shows bacteria could survive travel from Earth to Mars.

galaxy and bacteria images

Galaxy / Deinococcus radiodurans bacteria.

Credit: Pixabay / Dr. Michael Daly.
  • Japanese scientists find Deinococcus radiodurans bacteria can survive for up to 8 years in space.
  • The researchers studied the bacteria when it was attached to the International Space Station.
  • The results confirm the possibility of panspermia, that life can be spread in space by traveling microbes.

    • A new study from Japanese researchers confirms the possibility of panspermia, the possible spread of life throughout the universe via microbes that attach themselves to space bodies. The scientists showed that bacteria on the outside of the International Space Station can survive in space for years. The team also concluded that the Deinococcus radiodurans bacteria used in the experiment could even make the journey from Earth to Mars, hinting at the likelihood of our own extraterrestrial beginnings.

      To understand how bacteria can withstand the harshness of space, scientists sent Deinococcal cell clumps to the International Space Station. Once there, the specimen, around 1mm in diameter, were attached to the outside of the station on aluminum plates. During the course of three years, bacteria samples were sent back from space to Earth for further study.

      What the researchers found is that while the outer layer of the clumps was killed off by the strong UV radiation, layers on the inside survived. They were essentially protected by the dead bacteria in the outer layer. Once in a lab, they were able to fix damage to their DNA and even grow further.

      The researchers estimate such bacteria could survive in space for up to 8 years.

      Akihiko Yamagishi from Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences in Japan, who was involved in the study, shared that their work proves that bacteria can not only survive in space but may also be the way life spreads throughout the universe, through panspermia.

      "If bacteria can survive in space, [they] may be transferred from one planet to another," explained Yamagishi to New Scientist. "We don't know where life emerged. If life emerged on Earth, it may [have been] transferred to Mars. Alternatively, if life emerged on Mars, it may [have been] transferred to Earth … meaning that we are the offspring of Martian life."

      Did Life on Earth Come From Space?

      In its early days, Earth was constantly bombarded by meteorites, and was also hit by a Mars-sized planet called Theia, which likely resulted in the formation of our moon. This happened about 4.5 billion years ago and life started to sprout about 4 billion years ago. Is there a connection between all the collisions and our existence? Considering the slow pace of evolution, the relatively fast appearance of life after the Earth cooled off point to panspermia being a possible explanation.

      Another implication of panspermia – if we started out as microbes from another planet, why wouldn't there be more life throughout the universe, originated in a similar fashion? If you follow this logic, there's a good chance cosmic life is abundant.

      Check out the new study, carried out in conjunction with Japanese national space agency JAXA, published in "The Frontiers in Microbiology."

      COVID-19 amplified America’s devastating health gap. Can we bridge it?

      The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.

      Willie Mae Daniels makes melted cheese sandwiches with her granddaughter, Karyah Davis, 6, after being laid off from her job as a food service cashier at the University of Miami on March 17, 2020.

      Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
      Sponsored by Northwell Health
      • The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
      • Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
      • To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
      Keep reading Show less

      Decades of data suggest parenthood makes people unhappy

      Decades of studies have shown parents to be less happy than their childless peers. But are the kids to blame?

      (Photo by Alex Hockett / Unsplash)
      Sex & Relationships
      • Folk knowledge assumes having children is the key to living a happy, meaningful life; however, empirical evidence suggests nonparents are the more cheery bunch.
      • The difference is most pronounced in countries like the United States. In countries that support pro-family policies, parents can be just as happy as their child-free peers.
      • These findings suggest that we can't rely on folk knowledge to make decisions about parenting, on either the individual or societal levels.
      Keep reading Show less

      Lonely? Hungry? The same part of the brain worries about both

      MRI scans show that hunger and loneliness cause cravings in the same area, which suggests socialization is a need.

      Credit: Dương Nhân from Pexels
      Mind & Brain
      • A new study demonstrates that our brains crave social interaction with the same areas used to crave food.
      • Hungry test subjects also reported a lack of desire to socialize, proving the existence of "hanger."
      • Other studies have suggested that failure to socialize can lead to stress eating in rodents.
      Keep reading Show less

      A Chinese plant has evolved to hide from humans

      Researchers document the first example of evolutionary changes in a plant in response to humans.

      Credit: MEDIAIMAG/Adobe Stock
      Surprising Science
      • A plant coveted in China for its medicinal properties has developed camouflage that makes it less likely to be spotted and pulled up from the ground.
      • In areas where the plant isn't often picked, it's bright green. In harvested areas, it's now a gray that blends into its rocky surroundings.
      • Herbalists in China have been picking the Fritillaria dealvayi plant for 2,000 years.
      Keep reading Show less
      Scroll down to load more…