NASA's Arsenic Microbe Opens 'Other Options' For Life

Posted: Dec 2 2010, 1:36pm CST | by , in News | Technology News


NASA's Arsenic Microbe Opens 'Other Options' For Life
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Life Finds a Way

Ian Malcolm is about to have a heart attack. (Mad) Scientists have spent the last few months fiddling with Bacteria pulled out of Mono Lake in California. They were grown in a mixture filled with arsenic. Over time, the researchers were able to replace all the phosphorus in that bacteria with arsenic. So...why is this important?

Phosphorus is one of six "essential elements" for the creation of life. Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen and Sulfur are the other five. Traditionally, scientists have believed that planets lacking any of these elements would be incapable of supporting life. The fact Phosphorus was replaced by Arsenic in a living creature may mean that such forms of life could evolve naturally.

"Nature only uses a restrictive set of molecules and chemical reactions out of many thousands available. This is our first glimmer that maybe there are other options." said Dr. Dimitar Sasselov, astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

'Other options' mean better odds on the existence of extra-terrestrial life. Dr. Sasselov stated that - should these results hold up to scrutiny - they may give astronomers cause to "broaden our search" for life outside of our planet.

These findings may also point to the reality of the "shadow biosphere". This is a microbial biosphere of Earth that follows a different set of biochemical rules. In essence, it is possible that life originated with arsenic as a key element, but that it was gradually replaced by phosophorus.

Hell, if we were capable of creating arsenic-based life without much trouble, who is to say that our sort of life didn't arise from the same sort of tinkering? Once the zombie/robot apocalypse wipes all the other life out, these bacteria will gradually evolve into the new dominant stewards of earth. Then they'll create silicon-based life, blow themselves up, and the whole cycle will start again.

Hey, there are crazier theories.

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