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They are the most abundant form of life on Earth, but viruses – or their seed-like dormant state, known as virions – are outliers in our search for life on other planets. Now, one group of scientists are pushing for astrobiologists to consider searching for viruses beyond Earth more seriously.

In NASA’s current astrobiology strategy, viruses are mentioned six times in its 250 pages, write the authors of a recent paper Astrovirology: Viruses at large in the Universe. They call for the study of viruses to be incorporated into extraterrestrial science missions and astrobiological research at home, and have a checklist for the actions needed to put viruses on the interplanetary map.

“Viruses are an integral part of life on Earth as we know it,” saysKen Stedman, a virologist at Portland State University’s Center for Life in Extreme Environments and a co-author on the paper. If we are going to be thinking about life on early Earth or ancient or current life on other planets, we need to be thinking about viruses, he says.

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Category: Science