Richard Dawkins, a renowned evolutionary biologist, has told us that we shouldn’t be too surprised to find that alien life is similar to that on Earth – but possibly with a few modifications depending on their environment.
In some instances, they may have evolved wheels to move around, he said at the Starmus astronomy festival in Tenerife this week.
“How much of life on this planet just happens to be true for life on other planets?” Dawkins asked. He backs Darwinian evolution, a theory coined by naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin. This theory of evolution states that life reproduces in such a way that traits are passed on, which enable life to compete and survive.
It’s true that some of the lifeforms that crawl on our landscape and swim in our oceans might look odd, but it’s all in being in the race for survival of the fittest.
“The seaweed dragon for instance, has evolved to look just like seaweed in the process of natural selection – predators have avoided these ancestors because they’re hidden,” added Dawkins.
Furthermore, Giraffes have had to evolve to have longer necks in order to reach trees for food – another instance where Darwinian evolution has played a part.
Dawkins stated: “I’m betting my shirt that alien life is likely to be Darwinian life.”
However, Dawkins stresses that Darwin’s theory doesn’t work for complex features such as eyes, ears or any other intricate feature. “Eyes don’t evolve and get better because you use them a lot,” he laughed. “Unlike muscles, which do.”
Whether this life is protein-based, just like us, is something that we’re sadly not 100 per cent sure of. For us here on Earth, protein is a key ingredient. “There’s a working relationship between DNA and proteins. It’s what keeps us alive on this planet,” said Dawkins.“I think there’s a good chance that if we find life elsewhere, it’s likely to be protein-based.”
“But what would this life look like if conditions on these planets were different?”
The biologist thinks it’s possible that life would feel the effects of a change in gravity. On a world with low gravity, a mouse would be likely to have similar proportions to a rhino. A rhino on the other hand, would have extremely spindly legs akin to a spider or cranefly.
A world thick with smog and dust would also have some kind of an effect on its residents. “Sonar has evolved by around four times on this planet,” stated Dawkins. “You’re likely to find life that lives in darkness, like bats, which are able to use echoes to communicate, navigate and catch their prey in highly murky conditions.”
Dawkins didn’t rule out the possibility of lifeforms being able to grow wheels, that would enable them to move around, or alien life that’s able to use radio frequencies in their day-to-day lives. “Is it possible for life to grow metals [on themselves] that would allow them to use radio?” he pondered. “I’m just throwing that out there.”
Coming back to our immediate Solar System, we might have a shot at one day finding some kind of life-form on the Red Planet. But what does that mean if we do? “We’d know for certain that the universe was crawling with life,” answered Dawkins.