Fifth domains? (fifth columns? 😉 )
There’s already some evidence that something weird and undiscovered exists out there. Highly novel (and large) viruses, with weird strings of DNA (for a virus) have been discovered that seem to have strings of DNA from seemingly archaeal and eukaryotic genomes. The conventional thinking is that these viruses got that DNA in antiquity from unknown and long extinct eukaryotic and archaeal organisms. But that’s not necessarily the case.
The thought is that those genomes are “now only present as a so-called parasitic fourth domain [in these viruses],” Woyke and Rubin wrote. “It is possible, however, that this cellular precursor has simply not yet been detected and still exists awaiting discovery.”
Finally, the most trippy suggestion the scientists make is that maybe undiscovered life is using a genetic code we don’t understand, and haven’t, until recently, known how to detect and sequence.
“Sequencing to date has mostly been limited to the detection of the canonical four [DNA] bases,” they wrote. New techniques “have the potential to allow the recognition and characterization of environmental organisms with base modifications and compositions distinct from the four standard bases and their currently described modifications.”
Well, if we take the ID approach seriously—that DNA is a language—there is no obvious reason why it could not use different elements to form the instructional words. The words would, of course, have to be functional in the context; otherwise, nothing would happen.
Now, this whole train of thought seems to have got started due to the discovery of the giant viruses. See, for example,
The Scientist asks, Should giant viruses be the fourth domain of life?
Mimivirus discoverer doubts Darwin, banned from publication in France
Biggest virus ever: “We don’t understand anything anymore!” (Hey, after decades of academic smugness, that is a good place to begin discovery!)
See also: With Enceladus the toast of the solar system, here’s a wrap-up of the origin-of-life problem
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