Searching for Extraterrestrial Microbes

Locating thermophiles in other parts of the universe could very well aid in the search for extraterrestrial life. Most people have agreed that if life is found among the stars, it will be microbial (at least in the near-term future). Many individuals have also suggested that intelligent life forms might very well be extinct in other parts of the universe. If scientists could locate thermophile microbes, they could piece together an archaeological picture of once powerful civilizations.

Taiwan is well known for its hot springs. Most tourists that visit the island end up visiting at least one. Many people like to take relaxing baths in them. Hot springs can be great for people with arthritis. New research is proving that they can also be a great place to find astrobiological data.

Photosynthetic thermophiles that live in hot springs may potentially be removing significant amounts of industrially produced carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They’ve thrived because of fundamental changes to the atmosphere caused by humanity. In fact, there are some scientists who feel that these microbes could play a vital role in regulating the planet’s climate. That role might become increasingly important in the future.

Planets that were once inhabited by industrially developed civilizations that have since passed might be teeming with life similar to these. If a planet was sufficiently changed by another race of beings, it could have ultimately favored the development of these tiny beings. They could indicate that intelligent lifeforms once inhabited a planet, and that planet could be different today than it was in the past.

While discovering a planet full of microbes would be initially interesting, in the future it could be a relatively common occurrence. Therefore, news services of the future might very well pass by such stories after a few weeks – much like they do today with the discovery of new exoplanets. Finding sufficient numbers of photosynthetic thermophiles would be telling about the history of a world, but it would also require a great deal of geological activity. Then again, there’s nothing to say that other civilizations wouldn’t also have the ability to increase the amount of geological activity on other planets. They might even do it on purpose, as a way of terraforming for instance.

For that matter, humans might want to give that a try. Venus is superheated because of thermal runaway as a result of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If water were transported to that very hot world, colonists could use the resulting geysers to grow bacteria that would absorb the atmospheric gas.

Leu, J., Lin, T., Selvamani, M., Chen, H., Liang, J., & Pan, K. (2012). Characterization of a novel thermophilic cyanobacterial strain from Taian hot springs in Taiwan for high CO2 mitigation and C-phycocyanin extraction Process Biochemistry DOI: 10.1016/j.procbio.2012.09.019

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