Professor Paul Davies, an astrobiologist, cosmologist and director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University says that for life to exist outside of Earth, there must be a high number of microbes and several microscopic agents in space. He believes that if there is extra-terrestrial life with these agents on their planet, then there might also be viruses too. Mr Davies says that viruses can be likened to mobile, genetic elements. He said: “Viruses actually form part of the web of life.
“I would expect that if you’ve got microbial life on another planet, you’re bound to have – if it’s going to be sustainable and sustained – the full complexity and robustness that will go with being able to exchange genetic information.”
He also mentioned a number of studies that have linked the possibility of a process where genetic material from viruses gets incorporated into the genomes of humans and other animals – it is called horizontal gene transfer.
Mr Davies said that horizontal gene transfer is something that is possible if cellular alien life is somewhere out there in the universe.
He added: “A friend of mine thinks most, but certainly a significant fraction, of the human genome is actually of viral origin.”
Mr Davies also believes that if there is alien life, he highly doubts that it would be homogenous.
He stated: “I don’t think it’s a matter that you go to some other planet, and there will just be you one type of microbe and it’s perfectly happy. I think it’s got to be a whole ecosystem,”
But while this may seem alarming, Mr Davies is confident that this will not pose a threat to the human race.
He said: “The dangerous viruses are those that are very closely adapted to their hosts. If there is a truly alien virus, then chances are it wouldn’t be remotely dangerous,”
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“Actually, the toughest part of this problem is what would be the microbiology that you’d have to take – it’s no good just taking a few pigs and potatoes and things like that and hoping when you get to the other end it’ll all be wonderful and self-sustainable.”
Mr Davies new book, What’s Eating the Universe?, was published last week.