Recently, viruses have been recognized as the most numerous entities and the primary drivers of evolution on Earth. Historically, viruses have been mostly ignored in the field of astrobiology due to the view that they are not alive in the classical sense and if encountered would not present risk due to their host-specific nature. What we currently know of viruses is that we are most likely to encounter them on other life-bearing planets; that while some are exquisitely host-specific, many viruses can utilize hundreds of different host species; that viruses are known to exist in our planet's most extreme environments; and that while many do not survive long outside their hosts, some can survive for extended periods, especially in the cold. In our quest for extraterrestrial life, we should be looking for viruses; and while any encountered may pose no risk, the possibility of an encounter with a virus capable of accessing multiple cell types exists, and any prospective contact with such an organism should be treated accordingly.
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The quest for extraterrestrial life: what about the viruses?