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Wednesday, November 22, 2000 By United Press International

Scientists in Wales said they discovered what may be a tiny form of primitive alien life that a passing comet may have dropped into Earth's atmosphere, London's Daily Mail newspaper reported today. Researchers said that in the filter of a high-flying balloon operated by the Indian Space Research Organization, they found a strain of bacteria unlike anything on Earth. The bacteria were found at an altitude of 10 miles and scientists from the ISRO, Cardiff University and the University of Wales College of Medicine said it may have come from a comet on a close approach to earth, according to the Daily Mail.

Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe, who is based at Cardiff University, said the discovery marked "the first time we have had direct evidence for the hypothesis that comets seed life on other planets."

Wickramasinghe and astronomer Fred Hoyle suggested the theory of "panspermia" more than two decades ago, that the seeds of life, either DNA or microbes, could be carried by asteroids or comets and dropped off on planets such as earth to germinate life.

The bacteria found in the balloon's filter "is a hitherto unknown strain," Wickramasinghe said. "It is so different from anything we've seen before that there are only two possible explanations."

One, he told the Daily Mail, is that "organisms have been lifted from the earth to great heights in the skies and have somehow multiplied there and changed over time." The second, he said, is "that this is an example of primitive alien life."

The newspaper said samples of the bacteria are under study at Cardiff's Astrobiology Center, which Wickramasinghe and other scientists from ISRO, Cardiff University and the College of Medicine have teamed up to form.

Wickramasinghe rejected suggestions that the bacteria might the result of contamination by earthly organisms. He said ISRO had imposed stringent sterile conditions aboard the balloon.

"The most recent geological evidence now suggests life on earth may be 4 billion years old," the professor was quoted as saying. "That is a very significant time because it was a period when the earth was pounded by comets and meteors."

But his theory is not universally accepted in scientific circles. The Daily Mail quoted Alan Penny, an astronomer at Britain's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, as warning that "we would be cautious about jumping to conclusions."

"Extraordinary claims," he said, "need extraordinary evidence."

-- Mr. Happy (, November 23, 2000

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