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SETI in vivo: testing the we-are-them hypothesis

  • Maxim A. Makukov (a1) and Vladimir I. shCherbak (a2)

After it was proposed that life on Earth might descend from seeding by an earlier extraterrestrial civilization motivated to secure and spread life, some authors noted that this alternative offers a testable implication: microbial seeds could be intentionally supplied with a durable signature that might be found in extant organisms. In particular, it was suggested that the optimal location for such an artefact is the genetic code, as the least evolving part of cells. However, as the mainstream view goes, this scenario is too speculative and cannot be meaningfully tested because encoding/decoding a signature within the genetic code is something ill-defined, so any retrieval attempt is doomed to guesswork. Here we refresh the seeded-Earth hypothesis in light of recent observations, and discuss the motivation for inserting a signature. We then show that ‘biological SETI’ involves even weaker assumptions than traditional SETI and admits a well-defined methodological framework. After assessing the possibility in terms of molecular and evolutionary biology, we formalize the approach and, adopting the standard guideline of SETI that encoding/decoding should follow from first principles and be convention-free, develop a universal retrieval strategy. Applied to the canonical genetic code, it reveals a non-trivial precision structure of interlocked logical and numerical attributes of systematic character (previously we found these heuristically). To assess this result in view of the initial assumption, we perform statistical, comparison, interdependence and semiotic analyses. Statistical analysis reveals no causal connection of the result to evolutionary models of the genetic code, interdependence analysis precludes overinterpretation, and comparison analysis shows that known variations of the code lack any precision-logic structures, in agreement with these variations being post-LUCA (i.e. post-seeding) evolutionary deviations from the canonical code. Finally, semiotic analysis shows that not only the found attributes are consistent with the initial assumption, but that they make perfect sense from SETI perspective, as they ultimately maintain some of the most universal codes of culture.

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