THE TRUTH on the Californian NASA POISON ALIENS
Arsenic-gobbler weirdlife sets ET boffins on 'grail' trail
The discovery of a previously unknown lifeform in California that lives on arsenic is prompting astrobiologists to broaden their hunt for alien life.
The new bacterium - GFAJ-1, part of the class Gammaproteobacteria, which also includes E.coli - was discovered in samples taken from Mono Lake. The lake is naturally high in arsenic because of its location near the volcanic hotspot of Yosemite National Park.
A NASA-funded team went looking for exotic life in the Mono Lake after they hypothesised last year that arsenic, extremely poisonous to virtually all life on Earth, could fulfill the biochemical role usually performed by phosphorus.
"We not only hypothesized that biochemical systems analogous to those known today could utilize arsenate in the equivalent biological role as phosphate, but also that such organisms could have evolved on the ancient Earth and might persist in unusual environments today," said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, the lead author of a study appearing in the journal Science Express.
Phosphates are vital to life on Earth, forming the backbone of DNA, for example. Arsenic is so toxic precisely because, being located directly below phosphorus in the periodic table, its chemical behaviour is similar: it is able to disrupt basic processes.
Astrobiologists have worked on an assumption that alien life, if it exists, is probably dependent on phosphorus too, as well as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur. The NASA team today said that view should be reconsidered in light of their find.
"This organism has dual capability. It can grow with either phosphorus or arsenic," said Professor Paul Davies of Arizona State University.
"That makes it very peculiar, though it falls short of being some form of truly 'alien' life belonging to a different tree of life with a separate origin.
"However, GFAJ-1 may be a pointer to even weirder organisms. The holy grail would be a microbe that contained no phosphorus at all."
Professor Ariel Anbar, also of Arizona State, said: "One of the guiding principles in the search for life on other planets, and of our astrobiology program, is that we should 'follow the elements'."
"[This] study teaches us that we ought to think harder about which elements to follow."
As well as greatly increasing the number of planets where life could conceivably exist, the discovery opens fundamental questions about the potential capabilities of undiscovered Earthbound organisms. ®
This organism thrives on an element otherwise considered poison.
In a weird way, it's nice to know that when we succeed in extincting much of the life on this world through environmental destruction and massively irresponsible pollution that life will find a way regardless. Perhaps it is possible that if we were really smart we could utilise this bacterium to help us clean up our messes...or at least to direct our research into modifying extant organisms such that they could do the same.
There are plenty of people who tell me that the existence of life doesn’t matter if the human race isn’t among that life. Indeed, there are plenty of people that tell me that once they are themselves dead all life could go extinct for only they themselves matter. I never could understand this point of view…I think a universe without life would be a tragedy. A lost chance if you will.
I don’t know if life does indeed exist elsewhere in the universe, or if this one lone island of biochemical uniqueness is the only shot. Until we find evidence of it elsewhere however…I think we should do our best to see that life not only survives, but spreads. Seed it to as many worlds as we can…better the chances of it surviving something like a gamma ray burst or a nearby nova.
This particular form of life doesn’t seem different enough to serve as a seed organism on its own…but it offers some hope that we may yet discover an extremeophile with a suitably different biochemistry to send to another world. I understand such an idea is abhorrent to some folks; “why spend X millions of dollars sending some microbe to Mars when you could give that money to me so that I might spend it on hookers and blow?” I hope that we aren’t all that shortsighted.
There’s an odd comfort in knowing that long after I am dead, life will remain. Somehow, the knowledge that we managed to give it a chance on a world other than our own would give me yet more hope. For now though, I can only dream…
What's the deal with the RANDOM CAPITALIZATION?
There are at least 5 ARTICLES with weird CAPITALIZATION in their titles, in the RSS Feed. I don't know about the fellow readers, but I find it FREAKING ANNOYING (and harder to write, mind you)
The best joke so far........