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ISS Space Earth

Bacteria Found On ISS May Be Alien In Origin, Says Cosmonaut ( 240

Kekke writes: Lots of buzz around this. Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov took routine samples from the outside of the International Space Station during a spacewalk. These samples were analyzed and found to contain bacteria that must have come from somewhere other than Earth or the ISS itself. "Bacteria that had not been there during the launch of the ISS module were found on the swabs," Mr. Shkaplerov told TASS Russian News Agency. "So they have flown from somewhere in space and settled on the outside hull." He made it clear that "it seems, there is no danger," and that scientists are doing more work to find out what they are. The Independent writes, "Finding bacteria that came from somewhere other than Earth would be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of science -- but much more must be done before such a claim is made."
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Bacteria Found On ISS May Be Alien In Origin, Says Cosmonaut

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  • Wrong conclusion? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rahenri ( 1399049 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @03:05AM (#55648667)
    Just because it wasn't there during the launch it doesn't mean it didn't come from Earth.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It was me, ok? I jerked off on the ISS. Are you happy now???

    • Cowling hits a fly or ants crawled in...

      We call software errors, "bug", because of certain hardware errors at the dawn of the computer age....
    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @04:47AM (#55648899)

      Just because it wasn't there during the launch it doesn't mean it didn't come from Earth.

      Just because they thought it wasn't there at launch doesn't mean it wasn't there at launch.

    • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @05:01AM (#55648929) Homepage Journal

      Low Earth orbit is pretty much part of Earth. Its in our outer atmosphere for a start. Bacteria from the moon (but not from the inside of a camera) would be a big deal.

      • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @06:15AM (#55649135) Journal

        Agreed. Imagine you have an 8 inch volleyball, drenched with syrup. A quarter of an inch away, almost touching the syrup-coated volleyball, there is a coin and you find microscopic traces of syrup on the coin. How do you guess the trace of a syrup got on the coin?

        Most likely, it came from the big ball of syrup right next to the coin. Or maybe somehow syrup came in from outside and got on the coin, without ever making it 1/4 inch further to get in the volleyball. Which seems most plausible?

        That's the scale we're talking about with ISS. Earth is 8,000 miles diameter, 25,000 miles circumference. The atmosphere extends to 6,200 miles up (exosphere). ISS is below the exosphere, in the thermosphere. ISS is only 250 from the surface - nearly touching the ground.

        As someone else hinted, IIS is also travelling 18,000 miles per hour. At that altitude, there are roughly 4,000,000,000 air molecules per cubic meter*. Meaning ISS is colliding with billions of air molecules per second. It would be surprising if they didn't get a bug on the windshield.

        * Yeah I used imperial and metric in the same post. Get over it.

      • by tsa ( 15680 )

        Exactly. If it wasn't already on the ISS when it was launched they could have picked it up in the higher atmosphere. I would be surprised if there weren't any unknown bacteria living there that were specialized in living in the conditions at that height.

    • The proof it's alien is that it is already starting to affect the brain of that cosmonaut.

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @07:18AM (#55649281)
      It will be non-trivially difficult to 'prove' that these bacteria are not from Earth. High standard of evidence to be met. I wish them luck, they'll need it.
      • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @11:57AM (#55650643)
        Given that he jumped to the conclusion based on "There's bacteria there" it might not actually be that hard to prove it to himself.

        I will say though, you're right in a way. Our methods of investigating life are all biased for a very small subset of possible life, even on earth. LB Agar plates grow only a small subset of earth bacteria. Investigations that took sea water and just sequenced the DNA they found in it suggested that an astonishing majority of bacteria on our own planet is totally unstudied. We simply don't know how to grow most earth bacteria enough to study it.

        If this bacteria IS of ET origin, they'll smear it on a plate, it won't grow, and we won't be able to draw any conclusions. If it's of earth origin, odds are good the same thing will happen, and we again won't really know. We'll assume it's earth bacteria because it's pretty obviously earth bacteria, but we won't know.
      • Why? With genetic analysis almost routine at this point, I would expect that they could at the very least state that the bacterium(s) in question are/are not genetically congruent with known Earth species. If they find an E Coli on the outside of the station, it almost certainly came from Earth. If they find a bacterium with a genetic structure that is distinct from pretty much all known Earth species, it won't prove that it is extraterrestrial, but it would make it a lot less likely. At the very least,

        • If bacteria is that common in space, would it not have already fallen into Earth and thus be a KNOWN species? Or if unknown, just not discovered yet?

          It think it pretty hard to believe that one unknown type of bacteria got into the ISS wind shield without also getting into Earth surface.

          • Why? If a space bacterium fell to earth now, how long would it last? Chances are not terrible that it would be eaten almost immediately, or that it would fail to reproduce and eventually oxidize. I mean, you could be right and space bacteria could be falling to the Earth all the time but there isn't anything LIKE a guarantee that we'd see them, as we have a hard enough time finding and classifying the bacteria that we already have -- or separating out ones that might be falling from space all the time fr

    • I wonder how they know what growing medium to use for 'alien bacteria'.
      Also makes me wonder how many alien bacteria they have missed by not using the growing medium that's optimal for them.
      • Re:Wrong conclusion? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Gilgaron ( 575091 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @10:17AM (#55649973)
        There are plenty of native bacteria that won't grow in culture, and one reason archaea took so long to elucidate is that it is hard to use PCR on "unknowns." Since we wouldn't have primers for an alien bacterium (and really no reason to expect it to be using DNA or RNA at all, unless panspermia is correct and it has common ancestry with us) we'd mostly have to be lucky that it was able to be cultured. It'll be a while before we can find truly alien microbes with any ease.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Xyrus ( 755017 )

          Actually, the chance of some other life form not using DNA/RNA is very very low. Carbon based organic molecules and amino acids have been found pretty much everywhere we have looked including interstellar gas clouds. They're all over the place. And RNA is about as basic as you can get for consistent replication molecule.

          Now hypothetically any other "sticky" atom could be a basis for organic type chemistry (like silicon) but they are all less likely due to the difficulty of the chemistry. It COULD happen und

          • Perhaps, but would ET RNA or DNA use the same bases? There's little reason to believe that is the case.

            But I agree with your post. We know bacteria live in the upper troposphere, if not higher up. I recall reading that Earth might actually be leaving a trail of bacteria as it travels through space. (Wish I could find a reference for that.)

    • The actual statements don't contradict what you're saying. The "ooh, it's extra-terrestrial!" appears to be spin. What the Russians are saying (via translation) appears to be: -these bacteria weren't in ISS at launch -these bacteria somehow got into the exosphere, survived there, and ended up on the ISS. I am not an astrobiologist, but I thought high-altitude bacteria survival was established, or at least expected.
  • by Tinsoldier314 ( 3811439 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @03:22AM (#55648701)
    After all this time, the extraterrestrial life that we found ended up being a proverbial bug on the windshield of the ISS?
  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @03:22AM (#55648705) Journal

    They have miniature DNA sequencer on board, they can find out if it matches at all with any sequenced earthly strain. (I have one also, it is a MinION by Oxford nanowire technologies. Although not perfect it should be capable of sequencing this).

    If it truly of extraterrestrial origin it should be immediately obvious as it is would have diverged very far from the âoeTree of Lifeâ (thatâ(TM)s assuming there are any similarities at all).

    It, would also be incredibly valuable and not just from a scientific standpoint. Just a single completely novel protein has caused multi-billion dollar biotech revolutions. Here would be an organism with potentially thousands.

    • by Ubi_NL ( 313657 )

      If it is non-terrestrial, why would it use DNA, and then specifically the exact 4 nucleotides that we use?

      The only evidence here by the way is: we looked really careful and did not see it then so it must be from space.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That's like asking why stars and planets exist outside of our solar system. Nature has order and DNA probably exists everywhere and not just on what you assume is our one-of-a-kind little world.

        • Nature has order and DNA probably exists everywhere

          That's just a wild guess on your part. Right now, we have no reason to assume such a thing.

          • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @05:05AM (#55648933)

            That's just a wild guess on your part. Right now, we have no reason to assume such a thing.

            DNA consists of commonly available ingredients, can guide its own self-assembly, is stable, and nucleotides form abiotically. No other known material has all of these characteristics. There are retroviruses that use RNA, and protein based prions, but neither of these has evolved beyond being parasites of DNA based life. If another mechanisms was more viable for the basis of life, then why have none displaced DNA on earth, despite 4 billion years of opportunities?

            When we find life elsewhere in the Universe, I think it is very likely it will be DNA based.

            • DNA consists of commonly available ingredients, can guide its own self-assembly

              DNA needs a complex environment to duplicate itself, and that environment needs to be duplicated as well. It is highly unlikely that both a piece of suitable DNA, and that complex environment just happened to form by chance. Life must have started with something simpler, and gradually evolved towards the current DNA based system.

              If another mechanisms was more viable for the basis of life, then why have none displaced DNA on earth, despite 4 billion years of opportunities?

              Because DNA has a head start. Nearly all kinds of biologically active molecules would be interacting with current life forms and get broken down before they got a chance to self-org

            • Yet there'd be little reason to expect any similarity with the DNA codons to protein translations, even if DNA were to be somewhat inevitable. If we found an alien world teaming with life much like ours here, it would be shocking if we could eat the fruit there, for example.
              • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @12:35PM (#55650901)

                Yet there'd be little reason to expect any similarity with the DNA codons to protein translations

                Yes, they would likely have a different genetic code, and a different set of amino acids. But it is still likely that the fundamentals would be similar: using DNA codons to specify a sequence of amino acids.

                If we found an alien world teaming with life much like ours here, it would be shocking if we could eat the fruit there, for example.

                As long as we can have sex with their women, who cares about the fruit?

            • I largely agree with what you say here.

              The current DNA system very likely has advantages over alternate systems, on Earth's environment at least. A system with different chirality (direction of coiling) seems quite possible (indeed, it has been difficult to discover any convincing advantage for the chirality we observe on Earth); a DNA with different nucleotide pairing is another possible variation; and "DNA" is actually part of a complex system which can be modified in different ways. For example the codin

        • But stars range from yellow dwarfs to neutron stars and planets from small balls of rubble to gas giants. The bandwidth of planets is so large, that we have been discussing for decades if Pluto is one at all!

            So while it's likely that life is based on DNA elsewhere in the universe, it may be quite different. Or it may not, because our ACGT-version just works and is therefor widely used.

      • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

        Aren't there large quantities of human waste in orbit? Specifically faecal waste? If some gut flora has managed to survive (unlikely) and mutate (highly likely due to radiation) it could present as "not previously catalogued". Highly unlikely to reproduce, though.

      • It will have some means of replication, and it's likely it will function like DNA, or even be DNA, but that doesn't mean it will use the same letters/bases.
        Our DNA uses AGCT
        While RNA uses AGCU
        RNA is very similar to DNA and can do the same functions. Apparently some of the processes in our body have things switched between DNA & RNA.
        There can be other bases being used, which would be different letters. We've even synthesized some, and they seemed to have worked and were replicated along with the rest of
        • Apparently some of the processes in our body have things switched between DNA & RNA.

          There are viruses that use RNA for their genome, but all human cells use DNA as the genome and RNA for the transcription template, transporting amino acids to the ribosome, and for the ribosome itself. DNA does not do anything that RNA does in human cells.

      • Oh, I was assuming that they found some DNA in it and that they were still wondering if it was non-terrestrial.

        Obviously, if it was a living organism and managed to live and reproduce without DNA it would be extra-terrestrial. (Only some viruses managed to use RNA instead, some people don't consider them alive). That would make this discovery even more astounding!

        No, if it had DNA it might still be extra-terrestrial. Of course if it used different bases or a different "Code of Life" (codon triplets) or di

      • by abies ( 607076 )

        If it is non-terrestrial, why would it use DNA, and then specifically the exact 4 nucleotides that we use?

        For example because previous sample reached Earth few billion years ago and mutated a lot on Earth, while one they found now is either original or yet another mutation from elsewhere.

        Chances of finding life nearby (cosmic scale) is very small - but if we do find it, I think that it has bigger chances of being similar on basic level due to travel through panspermia, rather than appearing from inanimate matter in completely independent fashion.

    • Some argue that life on earth came from external sources, such as an asteroid. It also possible such things are not rare - that lots of bits of interstellar crap flying about the universe have little gobs of life clinging to them. If that's the case, then human biology was seeded by such "universal" biology, and we're bound to have some things in common with whatever they scraped off that ISS windshield.

      Btw, how long does that sequencer take to do its stuff?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 30, 2017 @03:22AM (#55648709)

    The claims of alien bacteria on the ISS are being met with widespread skepticism [].

  • Mutated bacteria (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ayano ( 4882157 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @03:23AM (#55648713)
    While in space most likely. The fact that we're even able to classify it bacteria rather than a foreign micro organism is telling.
    • While in space most likely. The fact that we're even able to classify it bacteria rather than a foreign micro organism is telling.

      There is no we.

      While I beleive this find only a matter of time. This is from one Russian cosmonaut without any real cites.

      Anton Shkaplerov Education:
      "Shkaplerov completed Yak-52 flight training at the Sevastopol Aviation Club in 1989. After graduation from Sevastopol High School in 1989, he entered the Kachinsk Air Force Pilot School graduating in 1994 as pilot-engineer. In 1997 he graduated from the N. E. Zukovskiy Air Force Engineering." []

      I find it ironic that it was release

  • It would be cool if these were alien, but I'm willing to bet that these are just terrestrial bacteria.

  • I tole you! (Score:5, Funny)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @03:32AM (#55648733) Journal

    What'd I tell you? I said aliens coming. I tole you and you didn't listen.

    They're our space brothers coming to protect the President from all the haters and libs. Oh, it's happening, now. Bet on it. Check fucking mate.

    • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

      That's why you don't want a wall...just to let all the aliens in to be on your side. We need a wall now, to protect us from those vacuumbacks, and anchormicrobes!

  • by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @03:35AM (#55648739) Journal

    The ISS orbit is so low it is within the upper reaches of our atmosphere. That is why it has to be given regular boosts to keep it in orbit. Though super thin, it does encounter enough atmosphere to induce drag.

    Just as we have found unusual organisms in the deepest oceans and even miles down in rock, we should expect to find bacteria at the limits of our atmosphere and even beyond. It should also be expected that they have evolved dramatically, as organisms living off of heat and sulfur deep in our oceans have done.

    There are some out of this world organisms right here at home. I'm not even sure how you could prove extraterrestrial origin. Almost anything you find could just be evidence of a previously undiscovered unique ecosystem 100+ miles up.

    It's sort of neat to imagine the possibility of some life form surfing around on the auroras in the thermosphere.

  • Oh, come on!! (Score:5, Informative)

    by DrTJ ( 4014489 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @03:37AM (#55648745)

    ISS har for 20 years been orbiting - a close distance - around a planet with gazillions bacteria an microbes, and been visited by more than a hundred people, and it was lanuched through the atmosphere containing lots of microscopic life, and as soon as bacteria is found on the outside, it is considered likely to be of alien origin?

    Gimme a break!

    I would be very surprised if we could keep it completely clean from earthly contaimination, even if we are talking about the outside.

    • And of course since bacteria have an asexual reproduction method, all it ever takes is one...
    • ...and it was lanuched through the atmosphere containing lots of microscopic life...

      The parts that make up the ISS were launched as payloads on other vehicles. I don't believe they were ever exposed to the atmosphere during ascent.

    • Don't forget the space walks. How many times have astronauts put on a suit while inside the station, then touched the outside of the ISS.
  • They will also learn that the Cigarette Smoking Man does, in fact, smoke on the ISS.
  • by locater16 ( 2326718 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @03:44AM (#55648759)
    What does "not there at launch" mean? The ISS has had multiple modules installed over the course of many years, almost 20 at this point. And bacteria is notoriously hard to kill. Martian probes undergo a thorough sterilization before launch just to avoid contamination of mars by earth bacteria, and between scrubbing and radiation and vacuum and etc. Nasa still isn't sure they've killed all of it. And yes bacteria can survive in space.

    All of this makes it seem fantastically likely that, hey it's just earth bacteria. Stuff can grow almost anywhere.
  • by Harold Halloway ( 1047486 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @03:53AM (#55648779)

    This 'bacteria' will be analysed and found to be a mixture of borscht and jizz.

  • I was under the impression that lots of service craft come into contact on a regular basis. It's not hard to imagine organic material taking a ride on most of those. So it's just a question of how easy the contaminant transfer becomes.

  • I heard about this []. Doesn't end well for the ISS crew.

  • []

    Is it so much of a stretch to assume that these same high-flying bacteria are the ones caked on the ISS?
  • So, he said that the bacteria could have come into space from the planet around which the space station orbits, or it could have come to the space station from an extraterrestrial origin. It sure sounds more exciting not to report the first part of what he said. It's like me saying that the CDMA providing my internet could have come from the local tower which I can't see, or it could be hijacked as part of a technologically perfect mitm attack done by a hovering extraterrestrial broadcaster that I also can
  • Edgar Mitchell saw seven-foot alien monsters walking on the moon. Or something like that.
    Pitiful Russians. USA wins!

  • by grungeman ( 590547 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @06:05AM (#55649109)
    A few years ago there was a woman in Germany that seemed to have been involved in all kinds of spectacular crimes, mostly murder. Her DNA was found on various crime scenes that seemed totally unrelated, She must have been the most wanted criminal for a while and was called the "Phantom". There was a $400,000 reward put on her head

    Of course it turned out in a slightly different way than police had expected. The DNA that was found was actually from a female factory worker packaging the cotton swabs that were used by German police to collect DNA, so these DNA traces were simply a contamination. Here is the whole story: []

    You can expect something similar from the bacteria on the ISS. Everybody of course wants some spectacular news, but unfortunately there are far more mundane ways how the bacteria could have ended up there.
  • Because bacteria can travel through interstellar space and hit a space station orbiting Earth, but bacteria can't travel a few thousand feet from Earth to a space station.
  • The next time a long-range sample return mission like the recently launched OSIRIS-REx is sent up, it could include a surface collection system to trap dust it encounters enroute. If panspermia is hiding in this stuff, revealing it in dust collected far from Earth's atmosphere would be much better proof, especially if the findings correlate with analysis of the returned sample itself. OSIRIS-REx will sample the surface of an asteroid, so whatever it finds will have been sitting out there for eons. That ship

    • >That ship has sailed, but there will be other sample return probes.

      Isn't it kind of awesome to live in an era where you can say that, with confidence, we're going to bring back more stuff from space to have a look at it?

      I still want my O'Neill cylinder and Orion drive, though.

  • by Jerry Atrick ( 2461566 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @07:43AM (#55649349)

    Hard to believe any bacteria could survive the collision velocities involved with an orbiting object, whether they floated in from space or up from the atmosphere. They were there when it launched.

    • ...or carried from Earth on the surface of something floating near the ISS. Like a spacesuit or docked capsule...

    • by swilver ( 617741 )

      That's not hard to believe at all. Bacteria have almost no mass, getting hit by an object going very fast would only result in a tiny amount of energy being released as a result of the collision, certainly not enough to kill the bacteria.

    • Why? We know of bacteria that lives in methane environments, at extreme cold, extreme heat, extremely acidic environments. We know of things extremely hard and extremely soft, and combine all that with bacteria being extremely small and thus having extremely low inertia the question of whether or not an extremeophile can survive hitting a windscreen isn't anywhere near as interesting as how it got there in the first place.

  • I'm not saying it's aliens, but...
  • To be safe, I think it's time we dust off the control box and collect the firing keys that sends the ISS into the Sun. No reason to accidentally bring down the cosmos version of the smallpox to earth. Do not worry astro and cosmonauts. We will add a few bronze plaques to some museums, name a couple of schools after you, and toss in naming a few toll roads for good measure. And of course, Tom Hanks and Ron Howard will make an Academy Award movie of your sacrifice for science and make millions.
  • Bacteria that had not been there during the launch of the ISS module were found on the swabs,

    Umm, how would they possibly know that the bacteria was not there? It's not as if they have some means of sterilizing on the launch pad and It's not hard to show how a previously unknown bacteria could have been missed. Not to mention that there is such a thing as mutations, particularly in a high radiation environment.

    So they have flown from somewhere in space and settled on the outside hull.

    Unless they have some means to conclusively rule out all sources of terrestrial contamination (and they do not) then this is the same sort of idiotic thinking that makes people think a UFO

  • Ripley, we've lost contact with the colony on the ISS.

  • by cstacy ( 534252 )
    601 - Fake News Overflow
  • Half baked movies about 300 lb. cockroaches from space taking over Earth can make a decent low budget horror movie. But bacteria from space taking us out just isn't worthy of being in a low budget flick.
  • My money is on it's just an earth bacteria that's undergone some mutations while in space.

    Would definitely be exciting if it's really not from earth. Would definitely have to study it extensively.

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