Scientists Warn Of “Extraterrestrial Bacteria” Invasions And The Need For Planetary Biosecurity

With the advent of space travel comes a new threat: invasion. According to, the threat is not from little green men landing on flying saucers, but rather from microbial contamination of Earth from extraterrestrial conditions and vice versa.

Anthony Ricciardi of McGill University and colleagues highlight the threats posed by such creatures in BioScience and suggest a strategy for dealing with the threat.

The authors express concern that biological pollution endangers both ecosystems and human health. “Biological invasions are a global biosecurity concern requiring rigorous transboundary solutions due to their significant costs to resource sectors and human health,” explain Ricciardi and colleagues.

And that threat may be closer than previously thought. Despite significant microbiological caution among space organizations, “bacterial strains demonstrating exceptional resistance to ionizing radiation, desiccation, and disinfectants have been discovered in NASA ‘clean rooms’ used for spacecraft construction,” according to the scientists.

However, an emerging area of invasion science, in which practitioners research the causes and implications of organism incursions beyond their developed ranges, is detailed in the article as a possible strategy to resolving this dangerous issue.

“Invasion science research has yielded unique insights into epidemiology, fast evolution, the link between biodiversity and community stability, and the dynamics of predator–prey and parasite–host relationships, among many other topics,” write Ricciardi and colleagues.

They go on to say that “existing protocols for early identification, danger assessment, fast response, and containment methods for invasive species on Earth may be altered to deal with possible extraterrestrial toxins.”

The authors emphasize a variety of invasion science ideas that could be applied to space biosecurity challenges, such as the notion that insular systems such as islands, lakes, and distant ecosystems are most sensitive to invasion threats.

Similarly, invasion biology has revealed the difficulties of anticipating invasions and the critical need of early identification in managing microbial threats. Portable real-time DNA sequencing technology, combined with databases of known organismal pollutants, according to Ricciardi and colleagues, could enable speedy reactions.

Despite their importance for space biosecurity, the authors claim that invasion biologists have not yet been included in Committee on Space Research planning.

They suggest that this should change soon because “more collaboration between invasion biologists and astrobiologists will enhance existing international norms for planetary biosecurity—both for Earth and for alien worlds that potentially contain life.”

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