Feb 18, 2009

Studying DNA: from Neanderthals to Aliens

By Chuck Missler

DNA is the digital code for life, the code that not only tells each part of the body how to form, but also what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. DNA can prove who committed a crime 20 years ago or explain why we inherit certain family diseases. Some scientists hope DNA can tell us about our ancient relatives, whom we only know from bones in caves. Others hope that DNA can even tell us about life on other planets.

Neanderthal DNA

Two groups of researchers working together have succeeded in sequencing more than 3 billion bases of Neanderthal DNA from a collection of fragments that make up more than 60 percent of the Neanderthal genome. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, and the 454 Life Sciences Corporation, in Branford, Connecticut believe they can now compare these DNA sequences to the sequences that have been done of the chimpanzee and modern human genomes. These efforts will help unravel the mystery of just how distant a relative the Neanderthal is.

A cursory examination of Neanderthal culture offers plenty of evidence that Neanderthals were fully human; they buried their dead, created art, and even made musical instruments. They are a variety of human that has died out, and anthropologists have long desired to know exactly what connection the Neanderthals did have to us modern-day folks. The sequencing of the Neanderthal genome may finally provide these eager scientists with some answers. The researchers will focus on comparing specific areas that are particularly 'human', like the genes associated with speaking and language, and those that deal with brain aging and development.

Genesis describes a massive Flood that destroyed every breathing creature on the earth except for eight humans and an assortment of animals tucked away on the Ark. All human beings alive on earth today descended from Noah's three sons and their wives, and only the DNA in their blood was passed onto us. Since the DNA of all the other humans on earth was wiped out, it makes sense that many other genetic variations of humans existed before the Flood, and those might have included, among others, these strange big-boned people we call the Neanderthals.

Synthetic DNA

Scientists in Florida have created a new kind of DNA in a laboratory, and consider it a possible model for what alien DNA could look like. Biochemist Steven A. Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville has put together synthetic replicas of the four nucleotides - A C T G - that are the foundational molecules for DNA. Benner took those original nucleotides and mixed them up a little to form similar but different synthetic nucleotides the scientists have dubbed Z, P, V, J, Iso-C, Iso-G, X and K. Unlike the real things, his synthetic nucleotides can't replicate – anymore than a robot can have babies. While what Benner's team has created cannot be considered artificial life, he is confident that it will only take a few more years and some little pushes to help his laboratory-created molecules get busy.

Benner also believes these synthetic molecules could give researchers outside-the-box ideas in the search for alien DNA. "Unless it happens to shoot at you with a ray gun, the life that you encounter off of Earth will not necessarily have same biochemistry as us," Benner said. His research was funded by NASA as a way to find out what life might look like on other planets. Earth-based organisms survive in water, but researchers consider that life on other planets could survive in liquid nitrogen or methane, for example. By using these synthetic chains of created DNA, Benner hopes to find a combination that could survive in those abnormal conditions. It's a feasibility study to answer the question, "Is it possible for life to exist in conditions that Earth life cannot?"

Of course, even if these scientists do manage to develop an 'alien' molecule that could thrive in a tub of liquid nitrogen, they will not have demonstrated anything real about proposed alien evolution. They will simply have proven that an intelligent designer by the name of Steven A. Benner succeeded in developing a cold-nitrogen-loving molecule. Whether that same molecule could have formed by chance on a distant planet would be mere speculation.

Related Links

Draft Version Of The Neanderthal Genome Completed - Science Daily
New Artificial DNA Points to Alien Life - Live Science
Tampering with the Engines of Creation - Koinonia House