Intelligent Alien Dinosaurs?

by Nancy Atkinson on April 13, 2012

I for one welcome our alien dinosaur overlords…maybe.

Dinosaurs once roamed and ruled the Earth. Is it possible that similar humongous creatures may have evolved on another planet – a world that DIDN’T get smacked by an asteroid – and later they developed to have human-like, intelligent brains? A recent paper discussing why the biochemical signature of life on Earth is so consistent in orientation somehow segued into the possibility that advanced versions of T. Rex and other dinosaurs may be the life forms that live on other worlds. The conclusion? “We would be better off not meeting them,” said scientist Ronald Breslow, author of the paper.

The building blocks of terrestrial amino acids, sugars, and the genetic materials DNA and RNA have two possible orientations, left or right, which mirror each other in what is called chirality. On Earth, with the exception of a few bacteria, amino acids have the left-handed orientation. Most sugars have a right-handed orientation. How did that homochirality happen?

If meteorites carried specific types of amino acids to Earth about 4 billion years, that could have set the pattern the left-handed chirality in terrestial proteins.

“Of course,” Breslow said in a press release, “showing that it could have happened this way is not the same as showing that it did. An implication from this work is that elsewhere in the universe there could be life forms based on D-amino acids and L-sugars. Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth.”

But not everyone was impressed with the notion of dinosaurs from space. “None of this has anything to do with dinosaurs,” wrote science author Brian Switek in the Smithsonian blog Dinosaur Tracking. “As much as I’m charmed by the idea of alien dinosaurs, Breslow’s conjecture makes my brain ache. Our planet’s fossil record has intricately detailed the fact that evolution is not a linear march of progress from one predestined waypoint to another. Dinosaurs were never destined to be. The history of life on earth has been greatly influenced by chance and contingency, and dinosaurs are a perfect example of this fact.”

For further reading:
American Chemical Society paper
ACS press release
Dinosaur Tracking blog

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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