DNA surviving atmospheric descent gives hope to ‘panspermia’ theory

1 Dec 2014

An experiment to test the durability of DNA by seeing whether it could survive re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere in a rocket has shown that it can indeed survive even the harshest of conditions.

Undertaken by the University of Zurich (UZH), the researchers applied the genetic material to the outer shell of the TEXUS-49 research rocket using pipettes and were able to determine that the double-stranded DNA molecules survived both entry and re-entry.

Amazingly, the researchers also found they were able to transfer genetic information to bacterial and connective tissue cells from the salvaged DNA found on the rocket’s exterior.

According to UZH, the experiment called DARE (DNA atmospheric re-entry experiment) resulted from a spontaneous idea by UZH scientists Dr Cora Thiel and Prof Oliver Ullrich, who were conducting experiments on the TEXUS-49 mission to study the role of gravity in the regulation of gene expression in human cells using remote-controlled hardware inside the rocket’s payload.

It was during these experiments that they asked the question as to whether the rocket might also be suitable for stability tests on ‘biosignatures’.

The results will no doubt give some sense of credence to proponents of the ‘panspermia’ theory that proposes the origin of life on Earth may have originated from elsewhere in the universe, having arrived on an asteroid or other means.

Speaking of the durability of DNA, Ullrich said, “The results show that it is by no means unlikely that, despite all the safety precautions, space ships could also carry terrestrial DNA to their landing site. We need to have this under control in the search for extra-terrestrial life.”

DNA and the Earth image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic