The study, published last week in the journal BioScience, calls for a review of the necessary biosecurity measures in response to the expanding range of space travel and exploration.
“More complex regulations are required to prevent biocontamination of the alien environment from the Earth and vice versa,” the authors of the study write.
“Such protocols should be based on studies of biological invasion – the spread of organisms with the help of humans in new environments. Collaboration between astrobiologists, invasion biologists, and politicians could dramatically improve planetary biological defense protocols. ”
The authors compared the impact of a potential alien “invasion” with the effects of humans introducing an alien species into a new habitat.
The researchers cite the example of Australia’s experience with cane toads, which showed how destructive it can be to introduce another organism into a foreign environment when Australia’s ecosystems are severely damaged.
The authors of the study acknowledged that the chances of a dangerous alien organism hitting Earth are small, but the potential consequences can be quite tangible, as in the case of other probable disasters, such as nuclear disasters or major earthquakes.
“Space is emerging as a new frontier for biosecurity risk,” the researchers write. “In addition to government space missions, the arrival of private companies and new international players has made space available to a wider audience than ever before.”