Friday, December 3, 2010

NASA Scientists Disover New Life Form

December 2, 2010 on Al-Jazeera English
See also: NASA Press Conference (Thanks to TheRationalizer)
From Gizmodo:
NASA has discovered a new life form, a bacteria called GFAJ-1 that is unlike anything currently living in planet Earth. It's capable of using arsenic to build its DNA, RNA, proteins, and cell membranes. This changes everything. Updated.

NASA is saying that this is "life as we do not know it". The reason is that all life on Earth is made of six components: Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same.

That was true until today. In a surprising revelation, NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe-Simon and her team have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today, working differently than the rest of the organisms in the planet. Instead of using phosphorus, the newly discovered microorganism—called GFAJ-1 and found in Mono Lake, California—uses the poisonous arsenic for its building blocks. Arsenic is an element poisonous to every other living creature in the planet except for a few specialized microscopic creatures.
Read more


  1. Sagan was right about carbon chauvinism I guess...

    So maybe there could be life on that one moon that has methane seas.

  2. I'm growing tired of hearing this discovery called a "new life form". It isn't. The team's paper shows that this bacterium can, under conditions of stress in a low phosphate/high arsenic environment, use arsenic in place of phosphorous. But it does nothing to show that this is the normal, natural mode of life for this organism. Nor does it show how the organism does this. There are a multitude of open questions that remain, and until they are answered, I will stay skeptical of calling this a "new form of life".

  3. Ed Yong (notrocketscience), Phil Plait (badastronomy) and PZ Myers (pharyngula) all have write ups on this story. People interested in this story, might want to look them up :)

  4. Please note that 'bacteria' is plural. What has been discovered is a new kind of bacterium.

  5. Please note that's a quote from Gizmodo.

  6. But if they're right, I'm for vacating this place and giving it another go.

  7. I love her last comment. "We will find it." It's virtually a no brainer, and I'm willing to be within the next 5 years we will confirm microbial life in the solar system. Watch Brian Coxes, the Wonders of the Solar Syatem. After seeing that series it's a very high probability. We just got to send more probes.

    Finding Extraterrestrial life won't be a problem for the religious. Although it must have been hard for Noah to cram all the 1.3 million earth based species into the ark those extraterrestrial microbes fit in no problem (its those damn dinosaurs that took up all the room). They have an answer. gid did it!
    How can anybody believe that stuff??

  8. This is just not a new life form. It's merely a well known bug that they introduced in the lab in medium containing high concentrations of Arsene. This is accelerated adaptation in the lab evolution by pestering them with toxic compound. No big deal give am radium uranium pesticides antibiotics any toxic compound you like and big change that if anything survives, its bacteria. Many bacteria can do that and even use Arsene for energy like we use oxygen. Proof for their claim that phosphor in DNA and other molecules is replaced by Arsene is very very weak. THis organism probably doesn't even do in its natural environment what it does in the lab. There is no direct evidence provided just that the cells are full of arsene but they are not discussing that there is still enough phosphor available and they did not do the proper controls to rule out that the storage granules on the pictures are not polyphosphate granules common in other strains of this organism. Many salt-loving bacteria (and Archaea) have to cope with low phosphor concentrations and became very well adapted to that.
    I fear that the press message were blown up just for attention purposes but the paper itself is rather disappointing and not proofing any of the claims and in my opinion not even worthy of being published in Science which is the blame of the reviewers that did not do a proper job.