There are about 10-100 times more viruses than all other organisms on Earth and scientists say we should look for them in space given how prolific and successful they are.
The study is calling for an entirely new discipline known as “astrovirology” and wants scientists to start developing strategies and tools required to detect viruses off-planet.
Portland State University biology professor Kenneth Stedman said: “More than a century has passed since the discovery of the first viruses.
“Entering the second century of virology, we can finally start focusing beyond our own planet.”
Astrovirology will combine virus research with astrobiology to detect biosignatures and understand how viruses may spread in space.
It is generally agreed that some kind of microbe will be the first form of life to be discovered on another planet, moon, or space rock.
But, the authors claim viruses could have played a major part in evolution on Earth too.
The authors of the study said: “There is also considerable indirect evidence that viruses are incredibly ancient.
“But no direct evidence, so we have been working on virus fossilisation/preservation in the fossil record.”
“Viruses arguably have coexisted with cellular life-forms since the earliest stages of life, may have been directly involved therein, and have profoundly influenced cellular evolution.
“Viruses are the only entities on modern Earth to use either RNA or DNA in both single- and double-stranded forms for their genetic material and thus may provide a model for the putative RNA-protein world.”
The scientists insist that alien viruses should not sound alarming or produce any nightmarish scenarios.
Stedman added: “Viruses have a bad rap. If we find viruses on other planets it is an indication of life, not something to be scared of.
The researchers urge NASA and other space agencies to search for viruses as they continue their study of alien worlds.
Certain locations such as liquid on Saturn and Jupiter’s moons or sediment on Mars could be the best place to look for them.
Stedman discovered in 2012 a completely new group of viruses capable of living in acidic hot lakes which are essentially boiling acid.
This showed the extreme conditions viruses can survive in and in this case, the new viral genome emerged after the combination of DNA and RNA from two apparently unrelated virus groups.
So, as well as living in harsh environments, viruses can find new ways to adapt.
This means the idea of viruses being discovered across the universe is not so outlandish.