Scientists sound the alarm over alien microbiological invasion

(ORDO NEWS) — Invasion scientists, worried about the threat of potentially invasive microbiological organisms that did not come from Earth, wrote an article describing how their nascent science could help protect our planet.

In particular, the authors draw on their knowledge of how organisms introduced outside their “evolved ranges” affect their new habitat, and how best to prepare for these consequences before it is too late .

“Because of the enormous costs they incur on resource sectors and human health, biological invasions are a global biosafety issue requiring stringent cross-border solutions,” McGill University’s Anthony Ricciardi and colleagues said in the latest issue of BioScience. And, add Ricciardi and his group, that threat could be just around the corner. ”

BACKGROUND: INVASION SCIENCE AND ASTROBIOLOGY

Various space organizations around the world, including the European Space Agency (ESA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), have been battling bio-pollution issues since the first Apollo missions sent astronauts to the moon. NASA recently introduced a position of Planetary Protection Officer to oversee this issue with the explicit goal of not only preventing contamination of our probes ‘and space travelers’ destinations, but also preventing pathogens from entering Earth that could harm our untrained immune systems.

“In NASA ‘clean rooms’ used to assemble spacecraft, strains of bacteria have been isolated that are extremely resistant to ionizing radiation, drying and disinfectants,” the authors write, highlighting an issue currently being addressed by the US space agency.

ANALYSIS: ATTRACT INVASION SCIENCE EXPERTS

Throughout most of their article, Ricciardi and his colleagues argue that experts in their particular field, invasion science, should be included in the training of these space agencies. However, according to them, they have not been invited to present their experience so far.

” Invasion science research has provided new insights into epidemiology, rapid evolution, the relationship between biodiversity and community stability, the dynamics of predator-prey and parasite-host interactions, and many other concepts, ” they write. “To our knowledge, invasion biologists were not involved in developing [space agency] policies to protect the planet.”

Ricciardi and his co-authors also explain that their methods could be useful in preparing for a hypothetical microbiological alien invasion , noting that “the protocols for early detection, hazard assessment, rapid response and containment procedures currently applied to invasive species on Earth may be adapted to combat potential extraterrestrial pollutants . ”

FORECAST: INTRUSION SPECIALIST RECOMMENDATIONS

In conclusion, the authors note that their research has shown that so-called “isolated systems” such as islands, lakes and other remote habitats are most vulnerable to the threat of invasion. In addition, they offer several suggestions on how best to prepare for these threats. For example, the development of improved technologies for portable DNA sequencing in real time, which can help the first person to determine the nature of the pathogen and the possible treatment. Just about such a system, developed by General Electric and funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), was described in Debrief.

However, the main thought of the scientists who wrote the article in BioScience is that representatives of this small but evolving field of science, which is specifically focused on understanding how organisms from a foreign environment can influence a new environment, should be included in the preparation Earth to any possible alien microbiological invasion.

“Closer collaboration between invasion biologists and astrobiologists will improve existing international protocols for planetary biosafety,” they conclude, “for both Earth and extraterrestrial bodies that may contain life .”

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