NASA announces new life form that thrives on arsenic

NASA announced today a new life form with implications for finding alien life.  A bacterium that thrives on arsenic, toxic to most life as we know it, was discovered in Mono Lake, near Yosemite National Park in the U.S., by a research team led by Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA astrobiology fellow with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Newly-discovered strain of bacteria, GFAJ-1, which use normally toxic arsenic to build its DNA and cells.

Her research team collected the bacteria and coaxed it to feed on arsenic, which used the arsenic to build its DNA and other molecules needed for it to live. “We’ve discovered a microbe that can substitute arsenic for phosphorus in its major bio-molecules. not just DNA, but things like ATP…  and all sorts of other bio-molecules,” Wolfe-Simon told reporters.  Arsenic has never before been seen to form an essential element in a life form.

These findings have implications for finding life on other planets, as conditions on other worlds might be similar to the extremely salty lake in which the bacteria discovered were found.  “We’ve cracked open the door to what’s happening elsewhere in the universe,” said Wolfe-Simon.

December 2, 2010

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