Re: SPACE: Contaminating Europa, was: Greens on Space

Date: Thu Mar 15 2001 - 01:58:23 MST

In a message dated 3/14/01 5:00:42 PM, writes:

>But with the islands case, you have some species adapted to a
>specific niche where there are no competitors and the incoming
>species are those from the larger continents where they have
>had to compete and survive. They generally come in with
>better "genes" and that is why they win.
>The proper comparison given your example is species coming into
>an island just after it has been formed when there is no established
>ecosystem to take advantage of. In that situation the "mainlanders"
>don't have an easy time of it. Only a very limited set of species
>that have evolved to deal with the resource poor conditions manage
>to make a go of it.

If there's life on Europa, there *is* an ecosystem. So we're back to
invading existing niches.

>Given the low energy availability you cite on Europa, the species
>from Earth that would manage to compete effectively are probably
>few and far between. The scientific insights that could
>be derived from any species that were discovered growing in
>such an environment would likely be very great. Nothing like
>a few billion years of evolution under really poor conditions
>to make you tougher than steel...

There are bacteria that catalyze almost any reaction of organics
you can find. Many can make a living under very restricted conditions.
Earth has lots of energy-poor environments. The difference is
Earth microbes have access to experimentation in the high-energy
enviroments via gene swapping, and then get polished by competition.

I would agree there's an excellent chance that Europan life could have
some really great things to teach up about biochemistry; I agree there
will be some Europan environments with rare or poor Earth analogues.
It's precisely that reason I want to be very careful about protecting
any hypothetical Europan life from destructive Earth contamination.
If we were mining Europa, then there would be cost-benefit issues to
deal with; but right now, we're *only* looking at it as a possible place
for alternate life. Europa isn't going anywhere; we can afford to make
sure we investigate it right.

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