This afternoon NASA is held a press conference announcing a newly-discovered bacteria strain, namedÂ 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.