(NaturalNews) The development of complex life forms on other planets may be nearly inevitable once the basics of life itself are present, according to a new study.
A group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Washington State University have concluded that the universe may resemble a “cosmic zoo” filled with plants and animals that bear at least some resemblance to those on earth, although they may have different anatomies and chemical makeup.
The researchers believe that once the origins of life are present, evolution would follow a natural path that eventually – given enough time and the right conditions – could lead to the transition from simple life forms to complex, and even intelligent beings, such as those found on our own planet.
Based on observation of the processes that gave rise to complex life on Earth, the researchers attempted to predict how easily these processes might occur on other planets where life has originated.
Their research indicated that the transition from single-celled organisms to complex life forms would likely occur on any planet where basic life already exists, but that these planets could be quite rare.
WSU astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch said:
“If the origin of life can occur rather easily, a percentage of organisms on other worlds will reach higher levels of animal- or plant-like complexity.
“On the other hand, if the origin of life is a rare event, then chances are we live in a rather empty universe.”
‘Key innovations’ drove development of life on Earth
The researchers made no attempt to predict how common planets supporting life actually are, but focused instead on how likely it might be that complex life would evolve on those where the origins of life had already occurred.
They looked at “key innovations” that occurred on Earth which drove the evolutionary process.
From the Daily Mail:
“The researchers examined the key innovations that drove the development of life on Earth, including the transition from single cell life to multicellular life, the rise of photosynthesis, the evolution of macroscopic beings, and the rise of intelligent life.”
These key innovations have occurred independently several times on Earth, suggesting that given the right conditions and enough time, the transition of simple to complex life is likely, and would follow a natural course.
For example, the development of photosynthesis has occurred independently four times in the Earth’s history, and multicellular organisms have also arisen independently among different branches of the tree of life.
This is evidence that similar processes would occur elsewhere, according to the researchers. “Therefore, in any world where life has arisen and sufficient energy flux exists, we are confident that we will find complex, animal-like life,” said Schulze-Makuch.
However, the development of human- or animal-like life might still be the exception, statistically speaking, just as here on Earth where simple organisms still greatly outnumber complex ones.
Debunking the Star Trek fallacy
In their paper, the team rejects the Star Trek Fallacy “that it is inevitable that complex, intelligent aliens will all have pentadactyl limbs, circular irises and male-restricted facial hair.”
In other words, any complex animal-like beings are likely to be quite different to us, physically speaking. The researchers also found little evidence of likely paths to “technological intelligence,” since humans are the only species on earth with that capability.
The researchers hope that their findings might aid in the search for intelligent life in the universe. Schulze-Makuch believes that SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) efforts should include the development and use of tools that can detect a range of signatures determining life – from microbial to complex forms.
The use of instruments that can detect the “red edge” of vegetation (the red edge is the wavelength of light associated with plant life), for instance, would be useful in the search for complex life elsewhere, said Schulze-Makuch.