Scientists from four of the world’s top universities have teamed up to study the origins of life on Earth and search for similar biological processes taking place elsewhere in the universe, reports AFR.com .
The universities of Cambridge in Britain, Harvard and Chicago in the United States and ETH Zurich in Switzerland announced the formation of what they called the Origins Federation on Saturday (AEDT Sunday) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.
“I believe that life is inscribed in the laws of physics of the universe,” said Didier Queloz, one of the leaders of this initiative, who holds a dual position at Cambridge and ETH. He co-discovered the first known exoplanet – a planet orbiting a star other than our sun – in the 1990s.
According to the founding scientists, the long-standing search for extraterrestrial life, whether simple microbes or advanced civilizations, would be boosted by new interplanetary missions to Mars and the moons of Jupiter and by observatories such as the James Webb Telescope. Further research would focus on the still mysterious emergence of life on Earth.
“We are living in an extraordinary moment in history,” Professor Queloz said. Scientists have identified more than 5,000 exoplanets, and they believe there are billions of them in the Milky Way galaxy alone.
“The discovery of many different planets is the big game changer,” he said. “We found a huge diversity of planetary systems and many of them are very different from the solar system.”
Professor Queloz’s colleague at Cambridge, evolutionary biologist Emily Mitchell, thinks simple life will be widespread in our galaxy, judging by the rate at which microbes appeared on young Earth around 4 billion years ago .
Dr. Mitchell’s lab seeks clues to extraterrestrial life from the early biochemical evolution of the first microbes on Earth.
“As we begin to study other planets, biosignatures could reveal whether the origin of life itself and its evolution on Earth is just a happy accident or part of the fundamental nature of the Earth. universe, with all its biological and ecological complexities,” she said.