It is dogmatically assumed that all life on earth directly descended from a single origin event nearly three and a half billion years ago. However, it is possible life originated more than once, or that some branches evolved to contain life with completely distinct biochemical, genetic and morphological features. This unknown, non-canonical (uncommon) life may as yet co-exist with known life. We refer to such hidden, non-canonical life as ‘shadow’ life. E.g. Viruses, before their discovery, would be considered part of shadow life by our definition.
Shadow life could be found anywhere! Shadow life on earth could co-exist with known life or might be found in extreme environments, such as deep-sea vents and icy permafrost. The BoL team is looking for shadow life by collecting water and soil samples from ordinary environments such as gardens and pond water, as well as extreme environments like deserts, hot springs, saline/alkaline lakes and deep-sea vents.
The focus of the BoL project is to develop novel assays and methods to detect shadow life. These protocols primarily involve next-generation sequencing, spectrometry, staining and sorting and imaging using electron microscopy.