What is life? my 2 cents

Sean Eddy sre at al.cam.ac.uk
Wed Feb 23 05:30:38 EST 1994

In article <2k8bt7$nqb at usenet.INS.CWRU.Edu> ef949 at cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Mark Petrie) writes:
  >To those who disagree with current "accepted" definitions of life
  >that relate to the following able to reproduce, metabolism etc
  >and then go on to say life cant be thought of in our terms
  >because there could possibly to non-nucleic acid life on another
  >planet, I say humbug! Scientific methodoligy is on provable
  >and duplicatable knowledge. Maybe provable is the wrong
  >word but you get the drift. I say we keep our definition
  >with the openness we should all have , that science is continualy
  >changing and being redifined as we learn more. 

On the contrary, scientific methodology is about what you imagine is
possible and what you want to look for. When the next lander goes to
Mars, I guess you'll send a PCR machine and universal ribosomal DNA
primers?  And when it doesn't amplify anything except some NASA or ESA
technician's fingerprints, you'll say, "nope, no life on Mars?"

There are real, though remote, possibilities of finding life or
remnants of life elsewhere in this solar system within our lifetimes,
and it doesn't have to be DNA or RNA based.  It's pretty unlikely that
a Martian would come up to a lander and wave at the camera -- though,
as Viking did, it's wise to take a camera along just in case. We need
a broad operational definition of life so we can design good Martian
(Europan, Titanian, whatever) experiments.

- Sean Eddy
- MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England
- sre at mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk

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