Page 8 - The 'X' Chronicles Newspaper - Feb-Mar 2018, Vol 27, No 2
P. 8

8                               Aliens May Be More Like Us

           These illustrations represent different levels of adaptive complexity we might imagine when thinking about aliens. (a) A
           simple replicating molecule, with no apparent design. This may or may not undergo natural selection. (b) An incredibly
           simple, cell-like entity. Even something this simple has sufficient contrivance of parts that it must undergo natural selection.
           (c)  An alien with many intricate parts working together is likely to have undergone major transitions. Image credit:


           Aliens May Be More Like                        about chemistry, geology, and physics to make  green eyes. But we believe evolutionary theory
                                                          predictions about aliens.                      offers a unique additional tool for trying to
                Us Than We Think                                 ‘In our paper, we offer an alternative  understand what aliens will be like, and we have
                                                          approach, which is to use evolutionary theory to  shown some examples of the kinds of strong
                                                          make predictions that are independent of Earth's  predictions we can make with it.
                      Oxford University
                                                          details.  This is a useful approach, because           ‘By predicting that aliens undergone
                                                          theoretical predictions will apply to aliens that  major transitions - which is how complexity has
          Hollywood films and science fiction literature
                                                          are silicon based, do not have DNA, and breathe  arisen in species on earth, we can say that there
          fuel the belief that aliens are monster-like
                                                          nitrogen, for example.’                        is a level of predictability to evolution that
          beings, who are very different to humans. But
                                                                 Using this idea of alien natural selection  would cause them to look like us.
          new research suggests that we could have more
                                                          as a framework, the team addressed extra-              ‘Like humans, we predict that they are
          in common with our extra-terrestrial
                                                          terrestrial evolution, and how complexity will  made-up of a hierarchy of entities, which all
          neighbours, than initially thought.             arise in space.                                cooperate to produce an alien. At each level of
                 In a new study published in the                                                         the organism there will be mechanisms in place
          International Journal of Astrobiology scientists                                               to eliminate conflict, maintain cooperation, and
          from the University of Oxford show for the first  “By predicting that aliens undergone         keep the organism functioning.  We can even
          time how evolutionary theory can be used to
                                                          major transitions - which is how               offer some examples of what these mechanisms
          support alien predictions and better understand                                                will be.
          their behaviour.  They show that aliens are     complexity has arisen in species on                    ‘There are potentially hundreds of
          potentially shaped by the same processes and    earth, we can say that there is a level of
                                                                                                         thousands of habitable planets in our galaxy
          mechanisms that shaped humans, such as          predictability to evolution that would         alone. We can't say whether or not we're alone
          natural selection.                              cause them to look like us.”                   on Earth, but we have taken a small step
                 The theory supports the argument that       Sam Levin, a researcher in Oxford’s         forward in answering, if we're not alone, what
          foreign life forms undergo natural selection, and
                                                          Department of Zoology                          our neighbours are like.’ []
          are like us, evolving to be fitter and stronger
          over time.
                                                          Species complexity has increased on the Earth
                 Sam Levin, a researcher in Oxford’s
                                                          as a result of a handful of events, known as
          Department of Zoology, said: ‘A fundamental
                                                          major transitions. These transitions occur when
          task for astrobiologists (those who study life in
          the cosmos) is thinking about what extra-       a group of separate organisms evolve into a
          terrestrial life might be like. But making      higher-level organism - when cells become
                                                          multi-cellular organisms, for example. Both
          predictions about aliens is hard. We only have
                                                          theory and empirical data suggest that extreme
          one example of life - life on Earth -- to
                                                          conditions are required for major transitions to
          extrapolate from. Past approaches in the field of
          astrobiology have been largely mechanistic,
                                                                 Sam Levin added: ‘We still can't say
          taking what we see on Earth, and what we know
                                                          whether aliens will walk on two legs or have big
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