Remember the hype before December when NASA released a press conference regarding “astrobiological findings”? Everyone thought it was related to extraterrestial life. It was not. Maybe because of that, it din’t get the press it deserved.
However the results they presented were nonetheless very interesting and indeed mind-blowing: Life has been discovered – here on Earth – with arsenic in its genome.
The discovery of an organism that thrives on otherwise poisonous arsenic broadens our thinking about the possibility of life on other planets, and begs a rewrite of biology textbooks by changing our understanding of how life is formed from its most basic elemental building blocks. Astrobiology Magazine has the story.
Previously it was thought (except in theory) that all life had DNA and DNA used phosphor. This organism apparently can use/uses arsenic instead of phosphor in its genome structure. Probably as a result from living in California in the “Mono Lake because of its unusual chemistry, especially its high salinity, high alkalinity, and high levels of arsenic”. A result from being isolated from fresh water in 50 years.
On the tree of life, according to the results of 16S rRNA sequencing, the rod-shaped GFAJ-1 nestles in among other salt-loving bacteria in the genus Halomonas. Many of these bacteria are known to be able to tolerate high levels of arsenic.
I can’t help to say that I’m very amazed by this finding. Unfortunately I haven’t really seen it picked up anywhere in the general press, outside of science magazines. But please, people, discuss it. It rocks the foundation, and possibilities, of life and our understanding of it.
Update: It seems these reports are “under fire” however, for flaws in the scientific research/report. Interesting to follow. As of yet I haven’t had time reading through any of the skeptic material. Many microbiologists seem to oppose the findings for some reason at least.