Biosignatures & Paleobiology

The Call For Aa New Definition Of A “Biosignature”

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
Astrobiology via PubMed
February 7, 2024
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The Call For Aa New Definition Of A “Biosignature”
An Earth-like exoplanet — NASA

The term biosignature has become increasingly prevalent in astrobiology literature as our ability to search for life advances.

Although this term has been useful to the community, its definition is not settled. Existing definitions conflict sharply over the balance of evidence needed to establish a biosignature, which leads to misunderstanding and confusion about what is being claimed when biosignatures are purportedly detected.

To resolve this, we offer a new definition of a biosignature as any phenomenon for which biological processes are a known possible explanation and whose potential abiotic causes have been reasonably explored and ruled out.

This definition is strong enough to do the work required of it in multiple contexts-from the search for life on Mars to exoplanet spectroscopy-where the quality and indeed quantity of obtainable evidence is markedly different. Moreover, it addresses the pernicious problem of unconceived abiotic mimics that is central to biosignature research.

We show that the new definition yields intuitively satisfying judgments when applied to historical biosignature claims. We also reaffirm the importance of multidisciplinary work on abiotic mimics to narrow the gap between the detection of a biosignature and a confirmed discovery of life.

Astrobiology via PubMed
Catherine Gillen, Cyrille Jeancolas, Sean McMahon, Peter Vickers
PMID: 37819715 DOI: 10.1089/ast.2023.0010


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