With a title like that, there was no way I could pass up this article in a vain search for anything vaguely more interesting. I found this December 2010 article in Wired. Even though I had no idea where this article was going, I was intrigued and very impatient when getting started to read. I had no idea what “mirror-image” cells were or what the author could have been referring to.
The gist of the article put in story form, is that there are these astrophysicists who spend our money and their time trying to discover other inhabitable worlds and the possibility of alien life on these planets. Anyway, disheartened by the fact that he may never see alien life on another planet, one particular scientist gets the idea to create alien life here on Earth. The idea that such life could exist here stems from the fact that we, as humans, exist and our existence could be explained simply as humans are the sum of proteins, amino acids, and sugars and nucleic acids-particularly DNA and RNA.
Keeping the ideas simple and non-scientific, all these “sciency” things do their jobs in our bodies based upon their particular 3-D shape. There are certain proteins that code for specific traits or functions and do so because they are shaped like the letter “I” more so than they are shaped like the letter “T.” Because the shapes of these molecules exist in either a left-handed or right-handed fashion, these scientists surmised that they could create alien life based upon the human genome, except that every place there was a human left-handed molecule, a corresponding yet identical right-handed “mirror-image” molecule would be created and used in its place. The same idea would be used for existing human molecules that exist in the right-handed fashion. And there you have it – Bizarro alien, just like the Superman comic!
According to these geniuses, if this pan worked, it would open up a world of new scientific discovery in materials science, drug development, and fossil fuels to name only a few. They also believed that these new aliens would have no known diseases that exist here on Earth and that it could quickly get out of control and try to take over the world-or at least the tri-state area!
So they got to work and found that there were several problems that they had to overcome. Not getting too “sciency,” they discovered that the enzyme that catalyzes the reaction of DNA replication, does not work on mirror-DNA. Several other such oversights were noted and are being circumvented as we speak. Anyway, although skeptical, I find that this idea may have some credibility to it. If we exist in either the left-handed or right-handed form (and we do), why couldn’t other beings exist as our exact mirror images? Creating these life forms by manufacturing every protein in reverse form would be a huge undertaking; however, the astrophysicists have thought of that too. While working on creating the mirror proteins, others in the field who understand how viruses work have concluded that if these life forms do exist somewhere, then they will be plagued by viruses in much the same way as humans are, and these viruses would be mirror-images as well. Since viruses attack cells by taking over the cell’s DNA replication cycles, if we found one of these mirror-viruses we could then get it to replicate mirror-DNA and therefore mirror-proteins so we don’t have to. Moreover, the scientists concluded that if any of this works, that would mean that the aliens are already on this planet-us!
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