06:54 GMT +326 February 2018
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    The Aliens Are Sick! Scientists Want to Keep Eye on Space Viruses

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    Calling for an entirely new discipline known as “astrovirology,” scientists have found a novel approach to the search for extraterrestrial forms of life.

    In the continuous hunt for alien life, humans have previously been searching for microorganisms such as bacteria. In their new study published in the science journal Astrobiology, a team of specialists from the United States and Japan suggests exploring another possibility. Considering how productive and successful viruses are on Earth, scientists call for the research of these biological entities in outer space.

    Scientists believe that viruses are the engines of evolution; without them, complex forms of life wouldn't emerge. Therefore, these entities will likely be the very first indication of extraterrestrial life if it exists.

    Researchers insisted that space agencies should not only start looking for viruses in liquid samples from the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, but evolve techniques to detect them as well.

    "Unfortunately, the lack of validated virus biosignatures makes detection of extraterrestrial viruses challenging," said Kenneth Stedman from Portland State University study, who led the study. "We need to further develop current tools, either put [a transmission electron microscope] on a spacecraft or develop other microscopic technologies that can detect molecules, not just atoms at nanometer resolution," he added.

    Astrobiologists also noted that virions — viral particles consisting of nucleic acid and proteins — could easily be "thrown out" of the Earth's atmosphere (for example, when meteorites struck our planet) and reach other space bodies. It is known that polioviruses and bacteriophages can survive in conditions of vacuum and cosmic radiation.

    "With this review, we hope to inspire integration of virus research into astrobiology and also point out pressing unanswered questions in astrovirology, particularly regarding the detection of virus biosignatures and whether viruses could be spread extraterrestrially," they wrote in their article.

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    extraterrestial life, life, research, virus, space
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