Can life be transplanted to planets outside our solar system that are not permanently inhabitable? This is the question with which Professor Dr. Claudius Gros from the Institute of Theoretical Physics at Goethe University Frankfurt is dealing in an essay that will appear in the scientific journal Astrophysics and Space Science.
In recent years, the search for exoplanets has identified very different types.
It is often presumed, that life evolves relatively fast on planets with clement conditions, at least in its basic forms, and that extended periods of habitability are subsequently needed for the evolution of higher life forms. Many planets are however expected to be only transiently habitable. On a large set of otherwise suitable planets life will therefore just not have the time to develop on its own to a complexity level as it did arise on earth with the cambrian explosion. The equivalent of a cambrian explosion may however have the chance to unfold on transiently habitable planets if it would be possible to fast forward evolution by 3-4 billion years (with respect to terrestrial timescales). We argue here, that this is indeed possible when seeding the candidate planet with the microbial lifeforms, bacteria and unicellular eukaryotes alike, characterizing earth before the cambrian explosion. An interstellar mission of this kind, denoted the `Genesis project', could be carried out by a relatively low-cost robotic microcraft equipped with a on-board gene laboratory for the in situ synthesis of the microbes.
We review here our current understanding of the processes determining the timescales shaping the geo-evolution of an earth-like planet, the prospect of finding Genesis candidate planets and selected issues regarding the mission layout. Discussing the ethical aspects connected with a Genesis mission, which would be expressively not for human benefit, we will also touch the risk that a biosphere incompatibility may arise in the wake of an eventual manned exploration of a second earth.