Before we start, a reminder of two things:
- The “big” discovery of life from other worlds might end up being literally very, very small.
- So-called “simple” organisms like viruses, parasites and bacteria might be far more complex than we can even imagine.
Recently live bacteria was found on the hull of the International Space Station, during a routine swab test. Russian engineer Anton Shkaplerov confirmed that the critters were not present at the launch of the ISS in 1998—and so most likely “flew from somewhere in space”:
…now it turns out that somehow these swabs reveal bacteria that were absent during the launch of the ISS module…That is, they have come from outer space and settled along the external surface. They are being studied so far and it seems that they pose no danger…
Earlier this Fall, we had the story of how (Earthan) bacteria on the ISS “shapeshifted” in order to thwart antibiotic attack. The active factor here was zero-gravity, which seemed to assist the bacteria in multiplying and changing shape.
And so we have…”alien” bacteria, in an environment that encourages it to change shape. While it might all sound like the prelude to a John Carpenter film, I’m sure everything will be just fine.
That said: I feel we have to face the facts that a) alien bacteria has probably already been carried back to Earth at some point, either through space craft or meteors or what-have-you; b) that we no doubt have “infected” outer space with our own bacteria; and c) there is probably a lot about bacteria that our scientists don’t fully understand yet.