Adrianne’s eyes were burning. The light from the monitor illuminated her face, but not much else. Not many could tolerate long hours staring at the screen without light from somewhere else. This, however, is how she preferred it. Her focus was unbreakable; at least until the 9th or 10th hour. As it was, she was nearing the end of her shift.
Adrianne, Dr. Franklin, was part of the Biological SETI team. Sometimes barely recognized and sometimes the secret hope of many in the globe-spanning SETI research effort, Biological SETI was on a mission to find one thing and one thing only, evidence in the human genomic code that some “one” or some “thing” at some point tinkered with our DNA. A biological message in a bottle saying: ET was here.
Andrianne herself was not completely sold on the idea, however it was intriguing to think that buried somewhere in the DNA of life on earth, there is an identifiable code that could not have arisen naturally. At one point, ninety-eight percent of the DNA strand in humans was considered non-coding. Apparently not contributing to the function of the organism in any productive way. What she did know, and what scientists around the world should have learned by now, is that just about the time we are certain that something is not a contributing part of the system (biological or otherwise) we are studying, a reason pops up and raise its ugly head destroying many miles of carefully vetted, peer reviewed literature. That’s just the way it goes.
Evolutionary biologists had been using DNA strings as indicators of how long a certain sequence had been in place for some time. Searching for patterns in the 500,000 to 2.5 million pairs of nucleotides, they found the evidence of where our species, and which one of us, developed, say, the ability to handle lactose. It seemed, then, that by taking the molecules apart (23 of them, actually) bit by bit, we just might find something that was a clear calling card that, well, ET had a hand in the production line.
Andrianne was a serious researcher and really wanted to find sequences that would fit the bill; she just wasn’t sure how she felt about the who or what may have put them there. She had devoted a number of years to the effort and a find in the field would secure her future. Meanwhile the G-A and C-T pairs drifted across the screen in monotonous continuity.
In preparation of leaving for the evening, Dr. Franklin processed the last string of DNA sequences through an algorithm designed to detect patterns or pieces of patterns representing known mathematical expressions and functions. Many had gone over the same territory but, most likely, had taken a different slice of the code. She chose this slice because it appeared to be quite ancient with little change for what appeared to be a geological time period. Once the sequence came to an end, again coming up with no known patterns, Andrea did what she always did on a whim as much as anything else – she flipped the code sequence and ran it through the algorithm. Reaching for her mouse to start the shutdown sequence as soon as the program ran its course, she froze. Her screen had filled with the “pattern found” icon.
Andrea held the moment to herself for nearly an hour before she alerted her supervisor. Her eyes never left the screen. In the hour she thought of how humanity had, since antiquity, refused to believe it occupied the universe alone. Out of loneliness of spirit, mind, reason, or some unexplained drawing to a superior being of some kind; mankind’s history was permeated with hunts for something else, someone else, somewhere “out there.” Now, as she prepared to have the program divulge just what it had found, that otherness was within our grasp. Would it be a pattern we could interpret? Would it tell us something new, or something that we had only dreamed was true? Where would it lead us and how soon would we get there?