In The Methuselarity Transformation, I envision a religion based upon messages embedded in our genetic code by an alien, and presumably long extinct, civilization. This new twist on Intelligent Design neither invokes an omniscient or eternal designer nor requires evolution to be invalid. It only assumes that some piece of our genetic code has been deliberately written at some stage of its evolution and propagated forward unchanged.
Genomic SETI, the search for intelligent messages within our genetic code, has been discussed in an earlier post: http://bit.ly/X0iAeA. By looking for linguistic patterns within segments of our DNA that don’t clearly code for function, scientists have made a case that these sequences are not only non-random, but bear the signature of an intelligent entity.
How advanced would a civilization have to be in order to be able to tinker with the genome and embed messages within it? In the process of decoding the genome, we have begun to reverse engineer many of the processes that build and modify it, and have come to the point that we can begin to edit DNA precisely in order to eliminate functions that are detrimental to the organism and introduce functions and qualities that enhance its ability to survive and to thrive. And we are already capable of constructing strands of DNA from scratch out of standardized building blocks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BioBrick) in order to make biologically based digital components or to modify nature.
The ability to use DNA as a communication medium is an almost trivial outgrowth of this technology. As early as 2005, researchers developed an alphabet based upon triplets of DNA nucleotides and encoded the first verse of a Christmas poem into the genome of a strain of the bacterium E. coli. As we become increasingly sophisticated in our ability not only to compose sequences of DNA, but also to stabilize selected sequences over many generations as organisms mutate and propagate, it is entirely conceivable that this medium will become the most enduring and practical means of recording the history of our civilization across the ages, embedded within the biology of a future world for an intelligent species to decode once it has sufficiently evolved.
Why then would it be less plausible that an ancient civilization has endeavored to tell its story in this manner than that ours will strive to do so in order to preserve our history for eternity? To paraphrase Walt Kelly’s venerable character Pogo (http://bit.ly/1CBA8wT): we have met the alien and he is us.