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Are aliens on Earth?

Applications of ancient DNA analysis

During a recent congressional hearing regarding UFOs held by Mexico, two alleged alien corpses were presented by UFO enthusiast Jaime Maussan. These artefacts were met with scepticism due to Maussan’s previous five claims to have found aliens, all debunked as mummified human remains. To verify the newly found remains as alien, various lab tests have been performed, one being a carbon-14 analysis by researchers at the Autonomous National University of Mexico. This analysis estimated the corpses to be approximately 1000 years old. Determination of the corpses’ genetic make-up is another essential technique for the verification of the supposed alien remains, but is it possible for these ancient remains to undergo DNA analysis? Yes; in fact, there are methods specialised for cases such as these that enable ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis. 


The relatively recent advent of high throughput sequencing technology has streamlined DNA sequencing into becoming a more rapid and inexpensive process. However, aDNA has fundamental qualities that complicate its analysis such as postmortem damage, extraneous co-extracted DNA and the presence of other contaminants. Therefore, extra steps are essential in the bioinformatics workflow to make sure that the aDNA is sequenced and analysed as accurately as possible. So, let’s talk about the importance of aDNA analysis in various areas and how looking at the genetics of the past, and potentially space, can unearth information for modern research.  


Applications of aDNA sequencing and analysis


Analysis of ancient DNA is a useful technique for the discovery of human migration events from hundreds of centuries ago. For example, analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) have repeatedly substantiated the “Recent African Origin” theory of modern human origins; the most common ancestor of human mtDNA was found to exist in Africa about 100,000-200,000 years ago. There have also been other recent studies within phylogeography; an aDNA study on skeletal remains of ancient northwestern Europeans carried out in 2022 showed that mediaeval society in England was likely the result of mass migration across the North Sea from the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. Thus, these phylogeographic discoveries improve our knowledge of the historic evolution and migration of human populations. 

 

Paleopathology, the study of disease in antiquity, is another area for which ancient DNA analysis is important. Analysis of DNA from the victims of the Plague of Justinian and the Black Death facilitated the identification of Yersinia Pestis and determined it as the causal agent in these pandemics. The contribution of aDNA analysis is consequently important to reveal how diseases have affected past populations and this derived genetic information can be used to identify their prevalence in modern society.  

 

Exciting yet debatably ethical plans for the de-extinction of species have also been announced. The biotech company Colossal announced plans in 2021 to resurrect the woolly mammoth among other species such as the Tasmanian tiger and the dodo bird. Other groups plan to resurrect the Christmas Island rat and Steller’s sea cow. In theory, this is exciting, or scary from certain ecological perspectives, but is complicated in practice. Even though the number of nuclear genomes sequenced from extinct species exceeds 20, there has been no restoration of species to date.  

 

Are aliens on Earth?

 

Thus, ancient DNA analysis can be applied to a multitude of areas to give historical information that we are able to carry into the modern world. But, finally, are these ‘alien’ corpses legitimately from outer space? José Zalce Benitez is the director of the Health Sciences Research Institute in the secretary of the Mexican Navy’s office and he reports on the scientists’ findings. The DNA tests were allegedly compared with over one million species and found not to be genetically related to “what is known or described up to this moment by science.” In essence, genetic testing has not conflicted with Maussan’s claim that these remains are alien so the possibility of their alien identity cannot yet be dismissed. However, this genetic testing does not appear to be peer-reviewed; NASA is reportedly interested in the DNA analysis of these corpses, so we await further findings. Ancient DNA analysis will undoubtedly provide intriguing information about life from outer space or, alternatively, how this DNA code was faked. Whatever the outcome, ancient DNA analysis remains an exciting area of research about life preceding us.



 Written by Isobel Cunningham


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