Controversially, according to this definition,
Perhaps a more useful characteristic upon which to base a definition of life is that of descent with modification; the ability of a life form to produce offspring that are like it but that also have the possibility of random variations. This characteristic alone is sufficient to allow evolution, assuming the variations in the offspring allow for differential survivability. The study of this form of heritability is called genetics, and in all known life forms with the exception of prions the genetic material is primarily DNA or the related molecule RNA. Another exception might be the software code of certain forms of viruses and programs created through genetic programming, but whether computer programs can be alive even by this definition is still a matter of some contention.
Note that many individual organisms are incapable of reproduction and yet are still generally considered to be "alive;" see mules and ants for examples. However, these exceptions can be accounted for by applying the definition of life on the level of entire species or of individual genes (for example, see kin selection for one way that non-reproducing individuals can still enhance the spread of their genes and the survival of their species).
Currently (2003), the Earth is the only planet in the Universe known by humans to support life. The question of whether life exists elsewhere in the Universe remains an open question. There have been a number of false alarms of life elsewhere in the Universe, but none of these apparent discoveries have so far survived scientific scrutiny.
All life on Earth is based on the chemistry of carbon compounds. Some assert that this must be the case for all possible forms of life throughout the Universe; others describe this position as 'carbon chauvinism'.
Lifespan is the length of life in each species.
Death is the termination of life in a living system, or in part thereof.
See also: Meaning of life, Vitalism, Materialism, Artificial life, Value of life, Afterlife
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