The work that the Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures (LAB) has been doing for the last five years has received the cover in the latest issue of Scientific American! The article, The Search for Extraterrestrial Life as We Don't Know It, does a fantastic job of highlighting the important work we've done during that time, and the questions we are still tangling with. Interviews and research from LAB members Sarah Stewart Johnson, Heather Graham, Lee Cronin, Pan Conrad, Pete Girguis, Chris House, and Chris Kempes are included.
One particular snippet that jumped out at me, was the interview with Heather Graham where they reframed past discoveries in terms of agnostic biosignature detection. That's a brilliantly accurate way to put it, and also introduces me to the term animalcules. That's what I call a win-win!
Even when scientists do discover biology unfamiliar to them, they tend to relate it to something familiar. For instance, when Antonie van Leeuwenhoek saw single-celled organisms through his microscope’s compound lens in the 17th century, he dubbed them “animalcules,” or little animals, which they are not.
Heather Graham, who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and is LAB’s deputy principal investigator, sees van Leeuwenhoek’s discovery as a successful search for (Life As We Don't Know It), close to home. The same description applies to scientists’ discovery of Archaea, a domain of ancient single-celled organisms first recognized in the 1970s. “If you reframe those discoveries as agnostic biosignatures in action, you realize that people have been doing this for a while,” Graham says.
Check out the article to not only see highlights of our research and learn about the roots of agnostic biosignatures, but to find out who the heretic amongst heretics is within LAB!
A depiction of the heretic, or Life as We Don't Know It? Credit: William Hand