A probabilistic framework for identifying biosignatures using Pathway Complexity

UK Centre for Astrobiology seminar

A probabilistic framework for identifying biosignatures using Pathway Complexity

  • Event time: 1:30pm
  • Event date: 12th December 2017
  • Speaker: Professor Lee Cronin (University of Glasgow)
  • Location: Room 4325B,

Event details

One thing that discriminates living things from inanimate matter is their ability to generate similarly complex or non-random structures in a large abundance. From DNA sequences to folded protein structures, living cells, microbial communities and multicellular structures, the material configurations in biology can easily be distinguished from non-living material assemblies. Many complex artefacts, from ordinary bioproducts to human tools, though they are not living things, are ultimately produced by biological processes—whether those processes occur at the scale of cells or societies, they are the consequences of living systems. While these objects are not living, they cannot randomly form, as they are the product of a biological organism and hence are either technological or cultural biosignatures.

A generalized approach that aims to evaluate complex objects as possible biosignatures could be useful to explore the cosmos for new life forms. However, it is not obvious how it might be possible to create such a self-contained approach. This would require us to prove rigorously that a given artefact is too complex to have formed by chance. In this paper, we present a new type of complexity measure, which we call ‘Pathway Complexity’, that allows us not only to threshold the abiotic–biotic divide, but also to demonstrate a probabilistic approach based on object abundance and complexity which can be used to unambiguously assign complex objects as biosignatures. We hope that this approach will not only open up the search for biosignatures beyond the Earth, but also allow us to explore the Earth for new types of biology, and to determine when a complex chemical system discovered in the laboratory could be considered alive.

About UK Centre for Astrobiology seminars

The astrobiology seminar series is run by the UK Centre for Astrobiology based in the School of Physics & Astronomy. Astrobiology is a multi-disciplinary subject and the seminar series actively encourages attendance by undergraduates, postgraduates and academic staff from other departments..

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