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Life beyond Earth? Purple bacteria may hold clues to alien life on other planets, study reveals

Scientists are expanding their search for extraterrestrial life by considering purple bacteria as potential candidates for alien organisms.

By: HT TECH
Updated on: Apr 19 2024, 19:06 IST
Earth's early history hints at the possibility of purple-pigmented life on other planets. (Pixabay)

In the quest to discover extraterrestrial life, scientists are broadening their horizons beyond the traditional green image of alien beings. A recent study suggests that alien life forms might actually be purple, specifically purple bacteria. Astronomers are focusing on these lavender-hued microbes due to their unique chemical makeup, which could make them well-suited to thrive on distant planets orbiting dim red stars.

The study, led by researchers from Cornell University, aims to expand the understanding of potential signs of life beyond Earth's familiar green chlorophyll-based organisms. According to co-author Lisa Kaltenegger, purple bacteria's ability to survive and thrive under diverse conditions makes it conceivable that on many different worlds, purple could be the new green, reported space.

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The Evolution of Life on Earth: From Purple to Green

Life on Earth provides valuable insights into the possible evolution of life on other planets. Our planet's history reveals a transition from purple-pigmented microorganisms to green chlorophyll-based organisms dominating the biosphere.

About 2.4 billion years ago, cyanobacteria, the first known photosynthesizing species, began harnessing sunlight using chlorophyll. This marked a pivotal moment in Earth's history, as these tiny blue-green algae released oxygen as a byproduct of their metabolic processes.

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Retinal: A Unique Signature for Alien Life Detection

Before the emergence of chlorophyll-based photosynthesis, microorganisms relied on a purple-pigment molecule called retinal for energy production. Researchers believe that this molecule, if present on other planets, could leave a unique signature detectable by advanced telescopes.

Lígia Fonseca Coelho, the study's lead author from the Carl Sagan Institute in New York, highlighted the adaptability of purple bacteria. She noted that in environments without competition from green plants and algae, these bacteria could find optimal conditions for photosynthesis under a red sun.

The study underscores the importance of diversifying the search for life beyond Earth's traditional green organisms. With advancements in telescope technology, scientists are hopeful that they might soon detect the unique signatures of purple bacteria on distant planets, bringing us closer to unravelling the mysteries of the universe.

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First Published Date: 19 Apr, 19:06 IST
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