The fundamental backbone of life is unbending, according to two new studies — a plucky bacterium from a California lake cannot substitute a poisonous substance for phosphorus after all. The results address the question of whether GFAJ-1, as the bacterium is known, is "weird life" with implications for astrobiology.
Last December, Felisa Wolfe-Simon announced the discovery of a microbe that could change the way we understand life in the universe. Soon she found herself plunged into a maelstrom of bitter backlash and intemperate criticism. A dispatch from the frontiers of the new peer review
This should have been Felisa Wolfe-Simon’s moment in the sun. But as the television crew takes positions, the 34-year-old scientist glances at the gray, churned-up lake behind her and gathers her collar around her neck. On cue, she begins her explanation of this lake’s unique chemistry, her voice rising in volume and pitch above the wind.
At first, the controversy over NASA’s arsenic-loving bugs centered on whether the space agency had found aliens. A week later, the debate has ping-ponged the other way, with scientists questioning whether the bacteria even love arsenic at all.
Biologists have isolated a bacterium that can use a deadly chemical in place of one of life's key building blocks, in a finding NASA says could have major implications for astrobiology and our understanding of life on Earth.
In the study, researchers examined a bacteria living in a very salty and arsenic-heavy lake in northeastern California, not far from Yosemite National Park. It is not a space alien, nor is it "new life" — it's an existing bacteria that lives in a difficult environment and was deliberately manipulated in a lab.
Arsenic levels vary widely, but they are dangerously high in much of the country.
By Trevor ThiemePosted 01.18.2002 at 8:03 pm 1 Comment
Arsenic is one of history's most infamous poisons. The Roman Emperor Nero used it to murder his rival to the throne, and some theorists hold that the deposed Napoleon Bonaparte was betrayed with a dose from trusted deputies. Yet, many Americans unwittingly drink toxic quantities of the stuff right from their taps.