New Motion Detector May Find Signs of Alien Life on Other Worlds

First Posted: Dec 30, 2014 06:15 AM EST

Detecting alien life on other planets isn't an easy task. It usually relies on chemical detection, which may be limited or even completely irrelevant to alien biology. Now, though, scientists have created a new method to find alien life; they've developed a technique that traces motion-even to the smallest degree.

The motion detector actually uses a nano-sized cantilever to detect motion. A cantilever is essentially a beam that is anchored only at one end, with the other end bearing a load. This type of design is usually used with bridges and buildings but in this case, it's used on the micrometer scale.

A sample is attached on the cantilever itself; for example, a bacterium attaches to the cantilever. If the bacteria is alive, it moves and the cantilever detects the movement.

So far, the researchers have successfully tested their system with isolated bacteria, yeast, mouse and human cells. They even tested soil and water. In each case, they detected and isolated vibration signatures from living cells.

"The system has the benefit of being completely chemistry-free," said Giovanni Dietler, one of the researchers, in a news release. "That means that it can be used anywhere-in drug testing or even in the search for extraterrestrial life."

It's possible that rovers could bring this new system to places like Mars or even Titan. The on-board system could then be used to test samples from the other world. More immediately, though, the cantilever system could be used in drug development. And used in large array, the cantilevers could be covered with bacteria or cancer cells and incubated with various drug compounds. If the drugs are successful, the motion signals would decrease.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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