Michael Crichton, Call Your Office

By | June 3, 2006

It has all the trappings of a pretty standard science fiction story. A mysterious weather phenomenon occurs in India — red rain. A scientist from Mahatma Gandhi University gathers a sample of the mystery substance and, examining it under a microscope, discovers that it contains microbes. The microbes deny easy classification. They seem healthy and they are reproducing, but they don’t fit any known categories.

And oh, by the way — they don’t have DNA.

This is life, but not life as we know it. After considering other possible explanations, the scientist comes to a startling conclusion: these microbes are an alien life form, specially evolved to survive the hardships of outer space. They were transported here via a meteor or comet.

That would be the opening chapters of the book. In the following chapters, the microbes would start growing out of control or trying to communicate with the scientist. But not in this version. In this version of the story, the scientist publishes his findings in a peer-reviewed journal and the debate begins as to whether alien life has been discovered. That’s not nearly as exciting, I realize, except for one little factoid — this isn’t fiction.

aliencells.jpg

Aliens?

Okay, let’s not get all excited. Every time we find “proof” of alien life, it inevitably turns out to be something else. This probably will, too. Which might account for the low-key coverage in the linked CNN story:

If his theory proves correct, the cells would be the first confirmed evidence of alien life and, as such, could yield tantalizing new clues to the origins of life on Earth.

Really, do you think? Gee, it might also be considered the single most important scientific discovery…ever. I guess that is pretty tantalizing.

One little twist that I like about this story. Remember that scene in ET where the scientists have quarantined ET and Eliot and they’re trying to figure out what, medically, they could do to save the creature? One scientists excitedly declares, “It’s got DNA. That’s confirmed, it has DNA!” In real life, it turns out that it’s more exciting to find a life form without DNA. Who would have guessed?

  • http://beyondwordsworth.com Kathy

    I wonder, jaded cynic that I am, and victim of way too many Michael Crichton novels, if we would ever get to hear the truth if this theory proves correct.

  • https://www.blog.speculist.com Stephen Gordon

    No DNA? Life is information. How’s this life form’s information being stored? Is there a new information-storing molecule waiting to be discovered here?

  • https://www.blog.speculist.com Phil Bowermaster

    Kathy –

    Well, if the microbes start to take over, we’ll probably hear about it. :-)

    Stephen –

    The article doesn’t say, but I’m guessing that must be the case.

  • NaomiC

    No DNA? Hmmm… Could it be stored in a sort of off-line, flexi-verse place?
    Reading about: “string theory” proposed a possibility of +/-11 alternate universes which was for storing their “bulk” (per NOVA?). Which sounds like a good place to put my butt on bad days… And maybe GWB could store his spent radioactive material – instead of on tribal land in Nevada.

    Naomi (who also gets headaches from string theory)