DETECTING ENVIRONMENTAL DNA
This story was spotted by many regular readers here who kindly passed it on to me, and I can see why. (Thank you, by the way, to all of you who did so). As one might guess from the title, this story has my high octane speculation motor spinning in overdrive:
As the article itself implies, scientists have figured out how to detect DNA in the air, and this promises some big advances in forensics, and even in how airborne diseases are transmitted:
For the first time ever, scientists have managed to collect environmental DNA (eDNA) from the air. The practice, still at its early stages, could revolutionize forensics, anthropology, and even medicine.
The scientists first took air samples from a room that had housed naked mole-rats and showed that airDNA sampling could successfully detect mole-rat DNA within the animal’s housing. The scientists also spotted human DNA in the air samples.
They initially ventured a guess that this might be due to contamination. However, with further research, they came to the conclusion that the human genetic material was moving away from its original source and spreading throughout the air.
Clare further explained that the technique could help researchers to better understand the transmission of airborne diseases such as COVID-19. "At the moment social distancing guidelines are based on physics and estimates of how far away virus particles can move, but with this technique we could actually sample the air and collect real-world evidence to support such guidelines," Clare explained.
It does not require much speculation to see how this might, for example, benefit forensics. Knowing how long types of DNA endure in particular environments might be of benefit in determining not only who was present at a crime scene but when it was committed.
But the speculative possibilities rapidly branch out from there and they raise all sorts of questions for some of the more exotic theories that are out there in speculationdom. For example, could one clone an animal, or even a human, from such DNA? or try this: does one still own one's environmental DNA and would someone need one's permission to use it in a database or in a clone, or not?
And if one is a fan of Russian Cosmism, or the theory of panspermia, or any number of other theories, it poses even more questions. For those unacquainted with it, Russian Cosmism is a wondrously weird philosophy combining elements of Christianity and technology to create a technologically driven "resurrection of the dead" by collecting all human ancestral DNA and cloning them back into life. All this, it is believed, is because it's our "Christian duty" to do so because we are now either in possession of, or close to possessing, the technological means to do so. Couple that with a bit of "transhumanism 'virtual immortality'", and voila, instant communio sanctorum (sans the All Important Ingredient of course having to do with the sanct part of the orum). Now, apart from a few nasty questions that would only delight theologians and philosophers like - oh, I don't know - the galloping Pelagianism and Christlessness of it all (I'm one of those who would entertain quite a few of those "nasty questions"), I'm not so sure that all my ancestors would be people I'd really want to know or hang out with. Those ancestors are, after all, French, Irish, Scottish, German, and Basque, and they haven't exactly behaved very well in the last few hundred years. They may very well be "family," but I rather suspect that there's much wisdom in those old Christian prayers asking for mercy for all of one's "ancestors in the flesh."
The panspermia idea is even more intriguing to entertain in connection with this environmental DNA. Panspermia is of course the theory entertained and elaborated by many biologists, who hypothesize that meteors, space dust, comets and so on, are teaming with "environmental DNA" and that life literally was seeded here by such objects slamming into the Earth aeons ago and depositing their seeds. (There's even a school of thought that theorizes that one of my own personal animal favorites - the octopus - was seeded here because besides being a wondrously intelligent creature, it just so very odd and unearthly in its eight-armed, nine-brained, body-on-top-head-in-the-middle-arms-on-bottom way.) On this view, "empty space" may literally be teaming with all sorts of life - or at least the seeds of it - waiting to be deposited in an environment which will nurture it and in which it can adapt and survive. This view, in fact, is not very unlike some of the metaphors in Vedic literature, and given that literature's occasional odd reference to some rather sophisticated physics and cosmological views, it may not be so far fetched. Already we have seen stories and reports of strange bacteria and other little organisms that have never been seen before, growing in odd little places where they "should not be", like the International Space Station. Where did the little critters come from? Nobody knows, but if they were just floating around out there and attached themselves to the ISS like little space barnacles, then the panspermia idea may not be so far-fetched.
But flip the picture. If there is environmental DNA, and if it can survive for a long time, then is it possible that as the Earth hurls through empty space, and one of Earth's inhabitants is hurling his own little satellites to neighboring planets, is it possible we might be not only effects of panspermia, but its agents? Again, it's not so far-fetched, especially when one contemplates the careful steps taken with such man-made satellites and probes to ensure we are not contaminating, or rather seeding, other celestial bodies. After all, the European Space Agency cancelled a Mars probe on account of Covid (leaving one to wonder just who on Mars might catch it?). And again, there all those ancient texts that seem to suggest that the genus homo might not be restricted to this planet.
So... down to the bottom line: this "little" story might not be so little, and it's one to watch closely...
See you on the flip side...
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