Cassidy G. ReddingProfessor Joseph Brunson Writing 121 Period 526 January 2018Extraterrestrial GenocideThe fundamental question mankind must pose before expanding our galactic reach is evaluating the risk of exposing terrestrial life to new planets. Bacteria, as single-celled organisms, have the capability to survive the vacuum of space for prolonged periods of time, and can also reproduce in certain environments that would be inhospitable for other species. With the responsibility that follows discovery, protection from extraterrestrial extinction must be heavily considered by space agencies. Extraterrestrial life might be threatened by human expeditions in the near future. Although space travel is necessary to the benefit and expansion of human understanding, the possibility of contaminating another planet can be detrimental to possible new scientific discoveries.If space probes carry foreign bacteria to different inhabited planets, there is the possibility that terrestrial bacteria will eradicate the bacterial species living there. Bacteria compete for the resources of their environment, and the dominant bacteria will also be the species that can acquire the most nutrients. If a new species is introduced to a favorable habitat, there is a possibility that it will uproot the ecosystem that is already established. An example of this on Earth is the species Ailanthus altissima, or Tree-of-Heaven. C.L. Smith, who works for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources said, “Seedlings of the Tree-of-Heaven establish a taproot…allowing this plant to outcompete most native plants for sunlight and space. Furthermore, Tree-of-Heaven also produces a toxin…that can accumulate in the soil and inhibit the growth of other plants” (55). Although not bacteria, the Tree-of-Heaven describes what many species undergo with a change of environment. It grew rampantly across the East Coast after being introduced to the United States, and botanists still work to prevent its spreading. Mankind will not have the luxury of being able to prevent bacterial dominance as we can with invasive plant species like the Tree-of-Heaven. Without human intervention, it is possible that terrestrial bacteria will behave on extraterrestrial worlds like invasive species behave on Earth. The new environment may be favorable to the terrestrial bacteria and may lead to bacterial adaptation and the extermination of a whole species of new life.Even despite the potential for a invasive bacterial species, mankind is still susceptible to misidentifying terrestrial bacteria as extraterrestrial life. This could create issues for scientific understanding of life on other planets, as Earthly bacteria may differ greatly from extraterrestrial organisms. In November of 2017, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, leader of the Russian International Space Station (ISS) crew, told TASS, a major Russian news organization, that his crew found foreign bacteria on the outside of the ISS. He stated, “the bacteria have come from outer space and settled along the external surface” (TASS). The lab responsible for testing the bacteria stopped providing information to other news agencies immediately after Shkaplerov released his statement to the press. This is detrimental to scientific understanding of extraterrestrial bacteria. Either the bacteria was terrestrial and Shkaplerov misidentified it as extraterrestrial, or extraterrestrial life can drift through the vacuum of space. In either situation, there is valuable scientific information being withheld because of a possible nationwide embarrassment. This may have simply been on the ISS, but when mankind begins travelling further across the solar system, events like Shkaplerov’s possible mistake will most likely happen again. Mankind must be ready for the impact that leaves on our understanding of extraterrestrial life. On the contrary, others believe that fighting to protect interstellar life is unnecessary because there are already agreements established between major countries that prevent excessive exposure and will prevent misidentifying bacteria. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967, signed by the Soviet Union, the US, and the UK, already has a clause that limits the amount of forward contamination space agencies are allowed to make. It reads, “…Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space…and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination…” (United Nations Treaties 6). The United Nations is attempting to protect extraterrestrial life from forward contamination. It also delves into the limit of bacterial spores on spacecrafts. The landed robotic bioburden occurence (the number of bacterial spores a probe landing on a planet is allowed to carry) is under 300,000 (Rummel et al. 9). Spacecrafts undergo intense decontamination and sanitization processes and must be tested multiple times before they are allowed to depart. This, in theory, should keep the number of bacteria allowed on foreign planets extremely low and seems like a valid preventative measure for extraterrestrial exposure. It is true that there are laws that protect interstellar environments, but these laws do not account for planets that are habitable for Earthly bacteria. Scientists are unable to know exact conditions of planets before launching these probes, and therefore cannot definitively know whether or not terrestrial life would survive there. Some strains of bacteria can quadruple in under 30 minutes. If a spacecraft is carrying a mere 100,000 and lands on a planet that has an ideal environment, 100,000 bacteria can become over 1.5 trillion in six hours. Mars has poor bacterial reproduction conditions, and studies have shown that a bacterium would barely be able to survive there. Unfortunately, Mars’ environment does not apply to every planet, therefore the survival rate of the bacteria will be different on every planet as well. Based on human knowledge of terrestrial life, where our bacteria can survive, so can other bacteria. Bacteria are notorious for competing for food. It has been shown that: …underlying the numerically dominant microbial populations is a highly diverse, low-abundance population… Furthermore, members of the rare biosphere that are amplified under favorable conditions to which they are pre-adapted can give rise to discrete, abundant populations. (Fuqua et al.)Fuqua and others state that, in favorable conditions, bacteria can spread exponentially and force other species to the brink of extinction by controlling the abundance of resources. On another planet, this could mean that the once-dominant bacteria becomes lesser. There is a very real possibility of uprooting their ecosystem if the terrestrial spores take root on a planet they can thrive on. Once an ecosystem is changed, it struggles to regain the consistency it had before the introduction of the catalyst. The UN has yet to account for a habitable planet when designing their treaties, and it is absolutely necessary to do so before exploring them. If mankind wants to understand extraterrestrial life, there need to be stricter guidelines established to prevent the possibility of exterminating most of the bacteria on new planets.Interstellar exploration should be heavily regulated because it causes terrestrial contamination of an untouched environment and could inhibit potential scientific discoveries. Spores that travel through deep space and survive the descent through a planet’s atmosphere, although few, can multiply and control the resources of the said planet like they do on Earth. Though we have botanists that specialize in the removal of invasive plants, it is impossible to exactly guess the conditions of a planet with current technology. Though it is impossible to guess what technology the future will bring, it is still crucial to think about the reasoning behind preventing extraterrestrial exposure. Therefore, with space travel, mankind runs the risk of an interstellar genocide. Word Count: 1197Works CitedFuqua, Clay, et al. “Bacterial Competition: Surviving and Thriving in the Microbial Jungle.” Nature reviews. Microbiology 8.1 (2010): 15-25. PMC. Web. 24 Jan. 2018.Rummel, J.D., et al. “Planetary Protection Considerations in the Selection of Landing Sites for Human Mars Missions.” 1st EZ Workshop for Human Missions to Mars, 27 Oct. 2015 pp. 9., www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/spry_human_landing_site_workshop_v4.pdfSmith, Cherri L. “Exotic Plant Guidelines.” Exotic Plant Guidelines, pp. 55., files.nc.gov/ncdeq/Water%20Quality/Surface%20Water%20Protection/401/Policies_Guides_Manuals/ExoticPlantGuidelines.pdfeTASS. “Scientists Find Living Bacteria from Outer Space on ISS Satellite’s Surface.” TASS, Russian Government, 27 Nov. 2017, 12:32, tass.com/science/977591.United States, Congress, Office for Outer Space Affairs, and United Nations General Assembly. “United Nations Treaties and Principles on Outer Space.” United Nations Treaties and Principles on Outer Space, United Nations, 2002, p. 6. Web. Works ConsultedNational Invasive Species Center. “Japanese Honeysuckle.” National Invasive Species Information Center, United States Department of Agriculture, 10 Nov. 2017, www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/plants/honeysuckle.shtml.University of Maine Extension. “Maine Invasive Plants: Japanese Honeysuckle.” Cooperative Extension Publications, University of Maine, 2004, extension.umaine.edu/publications/2528e/.Zachos, Elaina. “Bacteria on Space Station Likely from Germy Humans, Not Aliens.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 28 Nov. 2017, news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/11/bacteria-international-space-station-germy-humans-spd/.