(CNN) - All of life as we know it on Earth; pigs, pandas, fish, bacteria and everything else, has genetic information encoded in the same way, with the same biological alphabet.
Now, for the first time, scientists have shown it is possible to alter that alphabet and still have a living organism that passes on the genetic information. They reported their findings in the journal Nature.
"This is the first experimental demonstration that life can exist with information that's not coded the way nature does (it)," said Floyd Romesberg, associate professor of chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.
Medicine can greatly benefit from this discovery, Romesberg said. There's potential for better antibiotics and treatments for a slew of diseases for which drug development has been challenging, including cancers.
The findings also suggest that DNA as we know it on Earth may not be the only solution to coding for life, Romesberg said. There may be other organisms elsewhere in space that use genetic letters we have never seen, or that don't use DNA at all.
"Is this alien life? No," he said. "Does it suggest that there could be other ways of storing information? Yes."