Death Star dinosaur aliens could rule galaxy
Boffin: 'We would be better off not meeting them'
Rather than dying out in the dimly lit aftermath of a ginormous asteroid impact, dinosaurs on Earth may have instead spread to other planets and built a terrifying space-conquering empire.
Organic chemistry expert Prof Ronald Breslow has suggested from new research into DNA that the Jurassic Park monsters may in fact be living in highly evolved civilisations on other worlds - quite possibly with their own interstellar exploration programmes.
"We would be better off not meeting them,” the Columbia University boffin warned, however.
The alien dino theory in Breslow's paper published today in The Journal of the American Chemical Society is just one speculative conclusion of his research into DNA shapes. In his research the award-winning academic probed a mystery that's bothered boffins since the last century: why amino acids and sugars on Earth are always structured in a particular way.
He analysed the structure of proteins, sugars and genetic materials in DNA and RNA to find out why our planet's building blocks of life mainly exist in a specific orientation. The scientist pondered:
There are two possible orientations, left and right, which mirror each other in the same way as hands. This is known as "chirality". In order for life to arise, proteins, for instance, must contain only one chiral form of amino acids, left or right. With the exception of a few bacteria, amino acids in all life on Earth have the left-handed orientation. Most sugars have a right-handed orientation. How did that so-called homochirality, the predominance of one chiral form, happen?
Breslow laid out evidence that unusual amino acids were brought to Earth by a meteorite four billion years ago and kickstarted life on our planet. He examined whether these putative space rock amino acids set the pattern for the L-shaped amino acids that make up most life on Earth and investigated whether those could lead to D-sugars of the kind present in DNA.
He cites evidence that L-shaped amino acids were found on a meteorite that landed in the 1960s. Life built out of the same basic building blocks could, on other worlds, take similar forms to creatures that roamed pre-historic Earth, as Breslow noted:
Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth. We would be better off not meeting them.
On the question of just why other planets may be inhabited by our dinosaurs, a second paper published last week in the Cornell Earth and Planetary Astrophysics Journal suggests the trillion-ton meteorite impact that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago may have blasted off small bits of dinosaur DNA out into space. And quite a lot of those bits of dino-carrying rock will have landed on amenable planets, say the paper's authors.
The Cornell boffins have worked out what quantities of Earth matter would have been kicked out by the force of the impact and where that matter landed. They estimate that bits of Earth matter will have headed into the red dwarf Gliese 581 system some 20 light years away, which is thought to have a super-Earth orbiting at the edge of its habitable zone.
And of course if life from Earth was spewed into space by meteorites, then of course the life which arrived on our homeworld via meteorites must have come from somewhere else - somewhere perhaps filled with super-dinosaurs with iPads, satellite telly and Star Wars-style Death Stars.
Evidence for the Likely Origin of Homochirality in Amino Acids, Sugars, and Nucleosides on Prebiotic Earth was published in The Journal of the American Chemical Society. Transfer of Life-Bearing Meteorites from Earth to Other Planets was published in Cornell's Journal of Earth and Planetary Physics. ®
Re: Why somewhere else?
Actually that's not quite true. Our sun is pretty much in the first generation that could host complex life. The first stars (so called Pop III stars) were formed from the primordial dust -- basically 75% hydrogen, 25% helium, and trace "metals", using the weird astronomical definition of a metal being anything heavier than helium. It would be impossible for life to evolve around them - firstly, they were far, far too massive, spitting out enormous amounts of deeply unpleasant radation and then dying in a relatively short period of time in enormous supernovae; and secondly, there just weren't enough metals. Supernovae generate metals (as an aside, I think almost everything forged in a star while it burns is ripped back down to hydrogen in the supernova; the heavy elements the supernova spits out are refused during the expanding explosion itself) and enrich the cosmic medium with them. Even so, just a single generation of stars was very unlikely to seed enough metals to produce complex life; we needed a second generation (so called Pop II stars, many of the lightest and dimmest of which still exist) to form, grow, and die in supernovae before there were enough metals around to make life a reasonable prospect.
That still gives a period of, at a wild estimate, a billion or two years for life to have formed before it did on Earth, so it doesn't really speak against your argument. Our civilisation seems to have progressed from subsistence farming and chucking rocks or sharpened bronze at each other to smartphones and spaceships and nuclear bombs within 5,000 years or so, so a billion year window is pretty fucking massive.
Re: Why somewhere else?
You must be reading a different article. At no point did I read anything about a creator, creation myth, intelligent design or anything else of a similar vein.
The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old and the Universe is nearly 14 billion years old. This means that there was up to 9 billion years for life to evolve elsewhere before the Earth even existed. That is plenty of time for meteor strikes on other worlds to transport genetic materials throughout the Universe. Whether these materials would be enough to seed other worlds is a different matter altogether. The answer as to whether the Earth was seeded with life via meteorites or if it came about independently will depend upon how easily life evolves from the basic building blocks. If it is easy then the odds are that it evolved here independently, If it is difficult then the odds are it was seeded through meteorites bearing the necessary complex amino acids.
Re: Dinosaurs all the way down.
It's been done. A number of proteins and peptides have been made with the "unnatural" D-amino acids and shown to behave in an enantiomeric way i.e. only act on mirror image substances. The most spectacular example is probably the HIV protease (original paper in Science only accessible to subscribers).
The Reg article is rather a misrepresentation of Breslow's paper - the dino bit is a throwaway comment at the very end of the article. The rest actually implies the amino acids are made chiral in space under the influence of circularly polarised light (that theory has been about some while). The only significant flaw I can see is that he proposes transfer of chirality on Earth in a transamination reaction involving copper(II) ions, but as the early Earth atmosphere is supposed to have been reducing, I'm not sure of the availability of copper(II).
Hara's paper is a careful calculation of the probability of material moving from one solar system to another, but they acknowledge that it is difficult to estimate the likelihood of anything remaining viable during the trip.
My bet is that life will be almost equally divided between the 2 enantiomeric regimes, but there will be a nagging and unexplained slight excess of one over the other...