The Andromeda Strain Lives

17 Mar

Remember the late Michael Crichton’s landmark science fiction novel and pretty cool movie The Andromeda Strain? The story revolved around an alien strain of biological material that hitchhiked its way to Earth on a retrieved military satellite. Pure science fiction. Great science fiction. Totally speculative.


But now it just might have happened. It seems that astrobiologist Dr. Richard B. Hoover from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center has uncovered an alien, space-traveling bacterium. This one grabbed a ride on a meteorite. Scanning electron microscopy has revealed the fossil of a large bacterium, similar to one found on Earth, hidden inside the chunk of space rock.

Is this evidence of life in space? Is it conceivable that some space traveling organism could fall to earth and wipe us all out? Who knows. Time will tell.

As it says on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “DON’T PANIC.”


Dr. Hoover has invited 100 experts to review and analyze his work so hopefully we will know more about this creature, bacterium, apocalyptic organism, or what ever it is as further study is done.

But it should add speculative fuel to those of you who write in the sci-fi genre.


11 responses to “The Andromeda Strain Lives

  1. Pat Brown

    March 17, 2011 at 8:57 am

    It also adds fuel to the question of how did life on Earth begin. The building blocks of life are known to be common in asteroids and comets, but if this proves to be life itself, it might tell us where we came from — space, bombarding planets with biological material. The planets with the right set of physical attributes could then grow life. They’ve already run tests and determined that biological material could survive entry into an atmosphere.


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      March 17, 2011 at 9:46 am

      Yes it does. As someone once said there are two choices–either there is life out there or there isn’t and either way is astounding.


  2. Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77)

    March 17, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Life has been on planet Earth for a few billion years. We’ve also had lots of impacts and eruption in that time – both are powerful enough to eject microorganisms into outer space. In other words, is it ironic that this “space-traveling” microorganism is similar to one found “on Earth”? Not at all. It’s likely in fact.

    This is not a problem at all for people who believe in a transcendent Creator. It doesn’t prove life came here from somewhere else. It doesn’t prove anything. It’s just good fodder for science fiction writers.


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      March 17, 2011 at 11:27 am

      You’re right. It doesn’t. But whether those first little Amino Acid molecules sprouted up and strung together into enzymes which then constructed some purine bases and strung them together into DNA happened here or there is still astounding as is whether this happened by accident or was guided. Like the quote I offered about life elsewhere, whether there is a God or not is unknown but either way is astounding. Many argue that science, evolution, and God are mutually exclusive but they are selling God a little short. He/She would be clever enough to figure that out over a bowl of oatmeal. Millennia ago, Adam and Eve made from clay would have been much easier to understand than would a discussion of DNA replication, dominant and recessive genes, natural selection, survival of the fittest, and all that Mendelian and Darwinian stuff. All of this and virtually everything else is fodder for writers, sci-fi or otherwise. And that’s a good thing. Thanks for your comments. Good stuff.


      • Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77)

        March 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm

        You’re very welcome. I’m actually looking forward to whatever comes out of this discovery. I’m betting though that the researchers will find a way to determine that it really came from Earth or was somehow contaminated by earth-life. (Because it’s happened before…)

        On another point, this comment thread is a good example of why a common synonym for religion is “faith.” e.g. It’s claims can neither be proven nor disproven by empirical means though scientific endeavors have expanded right up to that line if they haven’t already begun crossing it. That’s reality for you. So, if God exists (and I believe He does) then He must have a well-developed sense of humor – and irony.

        Thanks for the warm welcome on your site. Jordan Dane mentioned it on The Kill Zone blog from yesterday. So far, I feel right at home. I’m looking forward to the next post.


      • D.P. Lyle, MD

        March 18, 2011 at 9:13 am

        Glad to have you visiting. Hope you find other fun things here.


  3. Teresa

    March 17, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    I loved Michael Crichton. I read The Andromeda Strain in high school and watched the movie as soon as it came out. I’ve even got it on DVD and the more recent version that was released. Crichton had a way of confronting some of the more possible things science could lead us to. I especially liked Prey about nano technology. And now at MIT they’re working on using nannites (sp) into the human body to attack tumors.
    If we have bacterium on our planet that can survive the temperatures of volcano vents, why not space bacterium. Who knows it might be the cure for aids.
    Pretty cool stuff Dr. Lyle.
    I enjoyed it as always.
    Teresa R.


  4. Gary Corby

    March 17, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Unfortunately Dr Hoover made a similar claim in the past, with a not entirely happy outcome. That doesn’t necessarily make him wrong this time, but it’s not a good sign.

    Contamination is the obvious answer if it truly is a microfossil, but the other possibility is that it’s a random crystalline structure. Microfossils are not the same thing as fossils! Look long enough with an electron microscope, and you can find almost any shape you want. Then, even if it’s a true microfossil in a true unadulterated meteorite, that makes it overwhelmingly likely that the rock originally came from Earth in the first place. There are quite a few Martian rocks on Earth that were thrown into space by meteor strikes; there’s no reason why Earth rocks can’t do the same.

    Personally I consider it certain there’s life on other planets, but I totally doubt this is it.

    What is far more compelling evidence are the amino acids that have been detected in nebulae. If they could find some longer chains, that would be very interesting indeed.


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      March 18, 2011 at 9:12 am

      I agree. Contamination or artifact are likely but still if not and this is “not of this Earth” it would be exciting. Probably it’ll be the mundane but we’ll see.


  5. J.D.

    March 18, 2011 at 4:56 am

    I read that several NASA scientist have dismissed Dr. Hoover’s claim. They contend what he has found are merely contaminates from here on Earth. Some said this is an issue that has been looked at before. Has anyone confirmed his findings? Is the scientific community taking him seriously?


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      March 18, 2011 at 9:10 am

      Hopefully the fact that others are “invited” to look at his work will solve it. Either he’s found something or he hasn’t. We’ll see. Either way it’s fun stuff.



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