DNA Can Survive Fiery Re-Entry into Earth's Atmosphere

First Posted: Nov 28, 2014 08:31 AM EST

It turns out that DNA can survive a flight through space and even re-entry into Earth's atmosphere-and still pass on genetic information. The findings reveal that DNA is far more resilient that first expected.

In this case, the researchers applied DNA to the outer shell of the payload section of the rocket of the TEXUS-49 research rocket mission. These DNA molecules then flew into space from Earth and then back again. After returning, the rocket was tested for the plasmid DNA molecules. It turns out that all of them were still to be found on the application points. Not only that, but the DNA salvaged could even still transfer genetic information to bacterial and connective tissue cells.

"This study provides experimental evidence that the DNA's genetic information is essentially capable of surviving the extreme conditions of space and then re-entry into Earth's dense atmosphere," said Oliver Ullrich, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The experiment was actually originally meant to be a pretest to check the stability of biomarkers during spaceflight and re-entry into the atmosphere. The scientists didn't expect for the DNA to be as intact and functionally active as it was.

In fact, scientists now believe that DNA could reach us from outer space since Earth is not insulated. Extraterrestrial material made of dust and meteorites could potentially find its way to our planet.

"The results show that it is by no means unlikely that, despite all the safety precautions, space ships could also carry terrestrial DNA to their landing site," said Ullrich. "We need to have this under control in the search for extraterrestrial life."

The findings are published in the journal PLOS One.

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