NASA Announcement: We May be Overlooking Life

Bacterium strain GFAJ-1 grown with arsenic instead of phosphorus. (Courtesy of Science/AAAS)
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Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon takes samples from a sediment core she pulled up from the remote shores of 10 Mile Beach at Mono Lake in California. She used these samples as starters for cultures to select for interesting microbes that can survive and flourish with high arsenic and no added phosphorus. (Henry Bortman)
NASA made an announcement today following its findings in a recent study that suggests we may have been overlooking life on earth and in space. The researchers found a bacterium that can grow with arsenic in substitution of phosphorus, which was previously thought to be essential for all life on earth.

The study, funded by NASA, was published online in the journal Science and announced in a press conference streamed live on NASA’s website today.

The scientists successfully grew the bacterium adding arsenic to its growth medium insphosphorus.

This research suggests that there may be life on earth and in space that uses arsenic and thus does not need phosphorus at all.

Furthermore, given these findings, the researchers think elements like carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur might possibly be replaced by their similar elements in some existing, but as of yet undiscovered, life.

This indicates that in our search for life in space, we may have overlooked planets that don’t contain these elements but that actually have life, with these forms of life using elements different from what we have previously thought of as life-creating materials.

In his 1990 book Paradigms Lost, John L. Casti explores different theories of the origin of life, considering different arguments for and against each, in the end arguing that the most plausible model is that life began with silicon

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