In a groundbreaking study conducted by researchers from the Senkenberg Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, a new concept of invasion has been introduced, raising concerns about the potential arrival of alien species accompanied by unknown germs.
The study unveils the notion of ‘nested invasions,’ suggesting that species from other planets may carry microscopic allies in the form of germs on their skin. While all animals naturally harbor bacteria, viruses, and fungi on their skin, creating a microbiome that aids in disease resistance, nutrient acquisition, and immune system development, this research highlights the possibility that these germs could pose a danger to our native environment. As a result, extraterrestrial visitors might pose a significantly greater threat than previously believed, capable of causing damage on a microscopic scale.
To illustrate this concept, the researchers examined Johnstone’s whistling frogs, a 17-millimetre amphibian that represents an alien species. These frogs carry a substantial amount of bacteria on their skin and in their digestive tracts, which they introduce and spread wherever they go.
Franziska Leonhardt, the study’s first author and a doctoral student, explains, “We conducted a genetic analysis of the skin and intestinal microbiomes of Eleutherodactylus johnstonei (Johnstone’s whistling frogs) from their native populations in St. Lucia, as well as immigrant populations in Guadeloupe, Colombia, and European greenhouses. These interactions with the environment play a more significant role in the skin microbiome compared to the gut microbiome.”
PD, Dr. Raffael Ernst, commented on the largely overlooked aspect of alien germs until now, stating, “Traditional studies have often neglected to consider these nested immigrations, thus disregarding a potentially vital aspect of invasion processes. However, we can conclude that alien species do not arrive alone!”
This study sheds light on the potential risks associated with the introduction of extraterrestrial organisms and emphasizes the need to thoroughly assess the microbiological impacts of such invasions. As space exploration advances, understanding and mitigating these microscopic threats will become increasingly crucial.