What We Don’t Yet Know (by )

As many of you now I want to be an Astrobiologist when I grow up - something I am resigned to not doing for the next few years as health and family have to come first.

But when I was working on it I saw so much still to find out it was almost mind blowing. Astrobiology as a formal subject is very young still as in - I bet few of you had heard of it before I started talking about it and I used to call it exo-palaeontology anyway 😉 .

Looking at the concept of life beyond our planet brings you straight to the question of life on Earth. Life's origin, evolution and colonisation of the harshest climes. In recent years life has startled us by turning up in the most unexpected places - entire eco-systems have been found is isolated pockets of water in the ice caps. The study of these creatures and how they interact is only just beginning but what use is knowing about them I hear you ask?

Well as everyone knows there is a thorny issue in science that affects everyone globally and that is Climate Change. Well our climate is a large complex fed back system with interactions that stretch from rock erosion to cows munching grass. One of the things that makes it so very complex is the biosphere - Life is both a driver and a quencher of climatic cycles. It is also a record of it.

Any information or new angles that can be explored with this topic will be immensely useful to mankind. Who knows it may even save us from ourselves but if there is no funding the research can not be done and those pools of ice will melt and be lost forever.

Another aspect is that micro-organisms can live inside rocks - in fact they can even eat the rocks to get what they need. This has reprocusions over say where you can store Nuclear Waste and the like. On top of that one of these little critters happens to etch glass for it's meal times! Photographers may have come across this as a frosting of their lenses - something they curse highly!

The hospitals we go to, especially the older ones often have porous brick work which would appear to now perhaps not be such a good idea! All those nice little nooks and crannies for organisms to live in. But just how much that matters will not be found out with out scientific research continuing.

Another aspect that always captured me was the evolution of the cell and organisms in general. And this where everything we thought we knew about genetics comes a little bit undone. Everything bar those annoying Macro-organisms (and maybe some of them!) appear to be be able to swap DNA. Little circular pieces of DNA called plasmids can be transfered not just between same species but across Kingdoms! (It used to be thought there where 3 Kingdoms in biology but there are at least five and the majority of it is dominated by mirco-organisms not the original Plant, Animal, Fungi!). This is what makes antibiotic resistances in a disease so bad - it can transfer the resistance to other diseases 🙁 But the mechanics and origin of this along with say a solution - lay in exploring how life arose, how the cells evolved. This again needs more work done.

I could keep going, talk about the elemental distributions on the Earth and in the Solar System - how this effects everything from mining for metals to make our computers run to how likely space colinization is but I feel I have made my point!

What we don't know? Just about everything - there is so much - we have just scratched the surface, just set down the tools we need and now the workshop is about to be destroyed before we can even start on the masterpieces.

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