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“It’s life Jim – but not as we know it!” may be a famous mis-quote from the TV series Star Trek in an episode[1] of the sci-fi drama which explored the existence of a previously unknown life form. The story posed questions around our ability to recognise an alternative life form which might exist in a configuration totally different to any we know, perhaps even based on an element other than the carbon-based life which we know and are.

When we think about life, perhaps it’s only natural that we are limited by our own experience. Plant scientist Monica Gagliano in her podcast[2] for Camden Arts Centre’s online project, The Botanical Mind, says, “…plants are quite alien in the way they’re configured: they don’t have a brain, they don’t have neurons, they don’t really have any centralised systems like we do. They’re so different that we find it difficult even to imagine how to be “plant”, but our failure is a failure of imagination.”  Gagliano goes on to suggest new ways we might begin to think about life and alternative life forms, and talks of the extraordinary outcomes of some of her experiments which explore how plants sense what is happening around them.

We know that there are many very different life forms existing in other environments – in the deep oceans and in places which are hostile to the sort of life we understand as oxygen-breathing, carbon-based organisms.

EXTREMOPHILES are living organisms which exist in environments which are inhospitable to most life. This might include organisms which live without oxygen, at extreme temperatures or extreme pressure, or in hostile acidic or alkaline environments. These are organisms which we would once have believed impossible creatures – the stuff of myth and fantasy, but now, with scientific and technological progress, scientists are able to study these life forms and questions open up about what other forms of life might exist beyond the realms of our limited imagination.

Image below: Signs of Life: Blister Bomb (With pipple). View this animation at https://vimeo.com/411777830.

[1] Star Trek season 1 episode 26, The Devil In The Dark

[2] Plant Sentience: A New Model of Intelligent Life

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