Before traveling out of the Earth becomes a regular event, the world needs to implement some basic biosecurity measures, Otherwise, we could start receiving unwanted Alien Pathogens.
If a strange organism manages to travel back to our planet in one of our spaceships, it could wreak havoc on Earth’s balance.
The possibility of that happening is highly unlikely, but not impossible. And as minimal as it is, we should prepare to lower it as close to zero. A more likely scenario would be a human tourist taking a terrestrial organism into space, and that, too, constitutes a significant risk.
In space-like conditions, studies have shown that some microbes can undergo rapid genetic mutations. After growing a thousand generations of Escherichia coli in microgravity conditions, for example, the researchers found that harmful bacteria became even more competitive, gaining resistance to antibiotics.
If resistant Alien Pathogens are brought back to Earth, it could seriously threaten human life.
“Risks that have a low probability of occurrence, but have the potential for extreme consequences, are at the heart of biosafety management,” explains biologist Phill Cassey of the University of Adelaide in Australia. “Because when things go wrong, they really go wrong.”
The International Committee for Space Research (COSPAR) has assembled a Panel on Planetary Protection, but no current member has experience in what is called “invasion science.”
Invasion biologists in Australia think this is a serious oversight. They say we need more sophisticated protocols to avoid biological contamination from extraterrestrial environments to Earth and vice versa.
“Given the huge research base in invasive species science and management,” we argue that increased collaboration between invasion biologists and astrobiologists would enhance existing international protocols for planetary biosecurity, both for Earth and bodies. extraterrestrials that could contain life ”, write the biologists.
Because right now, it seems our biosecurity protocols are failing us. When an Israeli spacecraft crashed into the Moon in 2019, for example, it threw dehydrated tardigrades to the surface, which could possibly still be alive.
Even more worrying, bacterial strains with signs of extreme resistance have also been isolated in NASA “clean rooms” where employees assemble spacecraft. If these dangerous microbes hitchhike in space, there is a chance that they will become even more virulent in microgravity.
Stopping that from happening in the first place is much easier than trying to deal with mutant organisms once they arrive on, say, Mars.
Even then, however, some experts think it might be nearly impossible to keep terrestrial microbes here on Earth. Everywhere else humans have gone, we have inevitably taken organisms.
Space, invasion scientists warn, is simply “the next frontier of biosecurity risk.”
The study has been published in BioScience.