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“We should be mindful that, however they may be encoded, lifeforms are likely to have differentiated on other worlds," says Frank Rosenzweig, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Montana. "Therefore, we should be alert to the signatures left by these more complex forms of life.”

When astrobiologists contemplate life on nearby planets or moons, they often suggest such life would be simple. Instead of there being some kind of multicellular organism on, say, Jupiter’s moon Europa, scientists instead aim to find something more like a microbe. But from such simple life, more complex life forms could eventually come to be. That’s what happened here on planet Earth, and that’s what could happen in other locations as well. How did the chemistry evolve to get life to where we are today? What transitions took place?

Rosenzweig is looking into such questions over the next five years with funding from the NASA Astrobiology Institute. His lab studies how life evolves “complex traits,” factors that influence everything from lifespan to biodiversity.

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