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Our search for alien life is silly

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This artist’s rendering shows a comparison between Earth, left, and the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size planet orbiting in the habitable zone of a sun-like star, found using data from NASA’s Kepler mission. (NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle via AP)

Looking for aliens in outer space is a fool’s errand. If you do find them, it means they were so sophisticated they sent complex messages across light years of space and, therefore, are more likely to enslave us than empower us. If they are primitive lifeforms, they may infect us in ways yet unknown. So why bother?

If in fact you do want to find extraterrestrial beings, look no farther than inside yourself. They are already here. Here’s my reasoning:

1: Sixty tons of space dust falls on planet Earth each day. Recent studies have demonstrated certain life forms can survive the passage through the atmosphere, and even reproduce once on Earth. These studies were done by loading fragments of DNA and spores into rocks and mounting them onto the exterior of rockets, which launched into space and returned to Earth.

2: Twenty percent of the DNA in your nose, and 40-50 percent of the DNA in your gut, codes for lifeforms as yet undiscovered. When we realize that bacteria were only recognized in the 1670s — and understood as recently 1860 by mircobiologist Louis Pasteur, with viruses not recognized until 1892 by Dmitry Ivanovsky — we understand that we are just at the beginning of understanding life.

3: We understand as little about our own microbiome as we do about the vast oceans surrounding us. They, too, host enormous numbers of yet-to-be-discovered life forms, some living near extremely hot vents of volcanic material erupting from the inner earth. Did these heat-resistant forms come from Earth, or land on earth?

4: Most likely, the lifeforms landing each day on Earth and its oceans are inhaled into every living being — and survive in some. So we are both earthly and alien.

Using our resources to look within and around ourselves first — to understand who we are now and to preserve our collective future — is far more likely to benefit the survival of our species than searching for other solar systems and planets. Our oceans and our bodies are as unknown as outer space and are far more beneficially explored.

In my own experience, looking deeply into the stem cells within us and understanding their influence on healing injured tissues has yielded an opening to entire world of novel therapeutic possibilities. I’ve found that the intricate structure of the human knee, with its meniscus, articular cartilage and ligaments, is as complex and surprising as any planetary system orbiting a distant star.

And even if we do find other worlds, they are unlikely to be as heavenly as our own Earth. Finally, consider this: While we must beware of what (or who) we might run into there, we can be ecstatic about what we may find here.

Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.

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