What If Life Did Not Originate on Earth?
Isaac Chotiner: I spoke by phone with Gary Ruvkun, a molecular biologist and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. Ruvkun has what he admits are somewhat unusual opinions about life’s origins, and about the possibility of finding life elsewhere. In short, he questions the common assumption that our form of DNA-based life began on Earth. What began as an interview about the methane discovery turned into a discussion about why he wants to send something called a DNA sequencer to Mars. (After our conversation, NASA announced that the methane concentrations had descended back to their usual levels, further confounding scientists.) During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we also discussed the ways in which scientific debates about the origins of life intersect with religious ones, the reasons he might be dead wrong, and what it feels like to hold a minority opinion in the scientific community.