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DNA Can Survive Fiery Entry into Earth's Atmosphere

Nov 28, 2014 11:02 AM EST

It turns out that DNA can survive the fiery entry into Earth's atmosphere, according to a new study, able to stay intact and still pass on genetic information.

A team of scientists from the University of Zurich (UZH) used a pipette to apply microscopic DNA to the outer shell of the TEXUS-49 rocket's payload section. Surprisingly, the molecules managed to survive the launch, space flight, re-entry into Earth's atmosphere and landing.

What's more, after the harrowing journey it was even still able to transfer genetic information to bacterial and connective tissue cells.

"We were completely surprised to find so much intact and functionally active DNA," co-author Dr. Cora Thiel said in a statement.

"This study provides experimental evidence that the DNA's genetic information is essentially capable of surviving the extreme conditions of space and the re-entry into Earth's dense atmosphere," added study leader Oliver Ullrich.

The team conducted the DARE experiment, short for DNA atmospheric re-entry, as part of the TEXUS-49 research rocket mission. Its goal was to better understand the role gravity plays in the regulation of gene expression in human cells. Also, the UZH scientists began to wonder if the mission could shed light on biosignatures, or the "molecules that can prove the existence of past or present extraterrestrial life," Thiel explained.

And with scientists these days trying to find signs of life outside of Earth, whether it be on exoplanets outside our solar system or on our neighbor Mars, finding new ways to detect such life could be helpful to the cause.

Many scientists believe that DNA can reach Earth in the form of extraterrestrial material such as dust and meteorites, of which 100 tons hits our planet every day. And now, knowing that DNA can survive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, their suspicions may just be correct.

The results were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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