Steven Benner is writing a book about the science behind the TV series Star Trek. Benner, a biochemist at the University of Florida, contemplates how basic biochemistry might be different elsewhere in the universe. This search for alternative biochemistry is described by a new phrase: the search for 'weird life.'

To many scientists, Benner's night and day jobs aren't separated by much. He disagrees heartily. "There's a vast difference between science fiction and the search for weird life," he says. "The first is always speculative. The second is still a scientific process; we design experiments to prove or disprove theories." Welcome to the weird world of weird life, where rules are meant to be broken, and what you see isn't always what you'd expect.

Probably the most famous example of lab-based weird life is the successful creation of artificial DNA containing six base pairs instead of four.1 Although...

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