Some SETI researchers are looking for intelligent design on Earth – by aliens!  Paul Davies has written seriously about the possibility of “alien bioengineering” that could be detected in DNA.  NASA’s tax-supported Astrobiology Institute gave the idea good press, apparently unaware that most SETI researchers and astrobiologists vociferously reject the theory of intelligent design.

Astrobiology Magazine describes itself as “a NASA-sponsored online popular science magazine. Our stories profile the latest and most exciting news across the wide and interdisciplinary field of astrobiology – the study of life in the universe.”  Usually, its articles avoid SETI (in the past, a politically volatile topic for NASA), preferring the more general topic of how to find simple life on planets of other stars (or here in our own solar system).  The episode for Astrobiology Magazine by Jeremy Hsu, though, dives right into SETI.  The article summary states:

The search for intelligent alien life goes beyond SETI’s search for intergalactic radio signals. Some scientists are looking for evidence of technological footprints and biological clues embedded in the DNA of life on Earth.

Adorned by pictures from Hollywood’s E.T. character, 2001’s moon monolith, and radically hypothetical Dyson Spheres, the article explores the ideas of Paul Davies that aliens may have left their mark among us by bio-engineering life here on Earth long ago.  DNA artifacts would last millions of years, he said, contrary to non-biological artifacts that geological forces would likely destroy in far less time.

To find non-natural DNA in creatures among us would require design detection.  This is SETI for the common man.  Davies says: “Citizen scientists and school students could pitch in to rungenomic versions of SETI programs to find any such traces.”  Davies also appeals to scientists.  “My proposals aim to spread the burden from a small band of heroic radio astronomers to the entire scientific community,” he said. “Projects like genomic SETI are an attempt to complement radio SETI, not undermine it.” He also “wants scientists to broaden their thinking about how aliens could have left behind their mark.”….

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