Director of Research in Evolution and Cancer at the University of Cambridge, Dr Duncan Odom, has recently suggested that moon rocks may shed valuable insight into our planet’s biological past. He purports that craters of lunar poles may potentially hold the key to explaining how complex, multi-cellular organisms evolved on Earth roughly hundreds of millions of years ago.
It is thought that the most likely locations to find well-preserved DNA coming from Earth would be the craters at the lunar poles which maintain eternal darkness. The Shackleton crater, which is based at the south pole, has existed for over three billion years, a period of time covering the vast majority of Earth’s living history. Additionally, as it is shielded from the sun’s intense radiation, it may have ‘captured biological samples from every major asteroid impact in Earth’s history’. Further, given its cold and shadowed interior, the crater is said to possibly act as a ‘preservation chamber’. Yet, merely being kept in the dark does not necessarily guarantee the survival of genetic material. Though protected from direct solar radiation, the samples would still be exposed to possibly ‘harmful cosmic radiation from the galaxy’ which could destroy molecules such as DNA easily.
However, genetic material which has been sufficiently embedded within or under boulders or lava flows, is thought to possibly have had a reasonable chance of remaining considerably intact and of being protected. Any DNA which is preserved in the lunar poles is deemed to be of incalculable value for understanding the true history of Earth’s life. Although perhaps less likely, Dr Odom suggests we may also identify candidate precursor organisms to current life forms on Earth, aiding us in tracing evolution in a more detailed manner. Further, there may be an exceptionally remote chance that sufficiently protected DNA samples of vertebrates, including dinosaurs for example, could provide a blueprint allowing scientists to potentially resurrect such extinct species.
Applicants for Natural Sciences, including those with an interest in tracing evolution, can explore this research further, considering how space exploration might facilitate scientists in unearthing our past and ancestry.