Searching for intelligent life forms? It takes one to know one. That's why the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Seti) Institute in California has appointed Dr Nathalie Cabrol as the head of its research programme into the nature of life beyond Earth.

What will that involve?

Dr Cabrol is to lead the institute's Carl Sagan Centre for the Study of Life in the Universe as it seeks to answer questions such as what it required for life to exist and how it starts, Seti has announced.

Sounds straightforward enough...

It's a natural transition for the astrobiologist, who specialses in planetary science. She has been with Seti since 1998, is a member of Nasa's Mars Exploration Rover team, has written serveral books on planetary science and has been published extensively in academic journals. "My job is to connect scientists who are approaching the search for life from different perspectives," she told the i newspaper.

Does she really believe aliens exist then?

"As a scientist it's not a matter of belief, but of testing hypotheses," Dr Cabrol said. "Considering the number of planets we are finding, it would be incredible if we are the only life in the universe."

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