NASA Discovers New Arsenic-based Life Right Here On Earth

Tiny GFAJ-1 bacteria keep on ticking despite an environment poisonous to most life. Credit: NASA

This afternoon NASA is held a press conference announcing a newly-discovered bacteria strain, named  GFAJ-1, that thrives on poisonous arsenic abundant in Mono Lake in California. Phosphorus is crucial for life – with it, our cells create energy to power the chemical reactions within our bodies that keep us alive. It’s also a crucial ingredient in the structure of our DNA.

The microbes live in a phosphorus-starved environment. Typical of life’s tenacious ability to put down stakes anywhere, no matter how extreme the environment, GFAJ-1 has found a way to replace phosphorus with a toxin … and survive! That includes using arsenic to create metabolic energy as well as incorporating the element into the structure of their DNA. The fact that bacteria could find a way to use the most unlikely chemistry to fashion a life increases the odds of finding other living creatures in inhospitable environments like Mars and Saturn’s moon Titan. For that matter, Earth. At least it opens up our thinking to the possibility. Are there any challenges that life can’t surmount? More information on this remarkable discovery can be found HERE.

3 Responses

  1. Jim Schaff

    Hi Bob,

    I was just out viewing Jupiter, 7:40 pm EST 12-3-10. I could see Jupiter’s emerging belt. There was a more diffuse dark area on the west side of south belt that trailed off to a thin broken line extending over 2/3 of Jupiter’s face. There also seemed to be some signs of belt below the thin line, but I was not certain. I wish seeing were better. I was using the 10 inch scope at 172x. That was about my limit.

    Well, back out to do some more viewing.

    1. astrobob

      Thanks for sending us your observation and description, Jim. We’re back under clouds again. I may have part of the same but not nearly at the level of detail of your observation due to so-so seeing.

  2. Tony Ryals

    Do these procaryotes still use Adenosine Triphosphate for
    respiration ? They still fit my concept of ‘organic inorganic
    coevolution’.However that’s still amongst the most radical biology
    news of my life time if true.Substitution of one mineral for another
    by an organism is not new however.Some organisms substitute selenium
    for sulpher into an organic structure when selenium is unavailable,as just
    one example.

    Pretty amazing however still doesn’t hurt the concept of
    organic-inorganic coevolution.It almost strengthens it….

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