Gary Ruvkun, a molecular biologist and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, wants to send a DNA sequencer to Mars
For almost seven years, nasa’s Curiosity rover has been exploring the terrain of Mars. Two weeks ago, it made a stunning discovery: relatively large concentrations of methane gas. The rover also found methane in 2013, but the readings recorded this month—approximately twenty-one parts per billion—were about three times as concentrated. The reason this news registered among scientists is that methane is often a sign of life; although the gas can be produced by various chemical reactions, most of it comes from animate beings. Does this mean that we are on the verge of discovering life on Mars, and, if so, what kind of life is it likely to be?
To discuss these questions, I spoke by phone with Gary Ruvkun, a molecular biologist and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. Ruvkun has what he admits are somewhat unusual opinions about life’s origins, and about the possibility of finding life elsewhere. In short, he questions the common assumption that our form of DNA-based life began on Earth.
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