READ THIS! Arsenic-utilizing life form discovered by NASA! (In California)


READ IT!

Excuse me for my caps, but I am excited.
 

MOD EDIT: Here's is the article in question, updated. Our posting guidelines ask that blogs or discussions about content external to ThinkAtheist include not just a link but either the article itself or a commentary on that external content.

 
NASA has discovered a new life form, a bacteria called GFAJ-1 that is unlike anything currently living in planet Earth. It's capable of using arsenic to build its DNA, RNA, proteins, and cell membranes. This changes everything. Updated.
 
NASA is saying that this is "life as we do not know it". The reason is that all life on Earth is made of six components: Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same.
 
That was true until today. In a surprising revelation, NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe-Simon and her team have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today, working differently than the rest of the organisms in the planet. Instead of using phosphorus, the newly discovered microorganism—called GFAJ-1 and found in Mono Lake, California—uses the poisonous arsenic for its building blocks. Arsenic is an element poisonous to every other living creature in the planet except for a few specialized microscopic creatures.
 

 
The new life forms up close, at five micrometers.
 
According to Wolfe-Simon, they knew that "some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we've found is a microbe doing something new—building parts of itself out of arsenic." The implications of this discovery are enormous to our understanding of life itself and the possibility of finding organisms in other planets that don't have to be like planet Earth. Like NASA's Ed Weiler says: "The definition of life has just expanded."
 
Talking at the NASA conference, Wolfe-Simon said that the important thing in their study is that this breaks our ideas on how life can be created and grow, pointing out that scientists will now be looking for new types of organisms and metabolism that not only uses arsenic, but other elements as well. She says that she's working on a few possibilities herself.
 
NASA's geobiologist Pamela Conrad thinks that the discovery is huge and "phenomenal," comparing it to the Star Trek episode in which the Enterprise crew finds Horta, a silicon-based alien life form that can't be detected with tricorders because it wasn't carbon-based. It's like saying that we may be looking for new life in the wrong places with the wrong methods. Indeed, NASA tweeted that this discovery "will change how we search for life elsewhere in the Universe."
 

 
Mono Lake, in Central California. Image Credit: NASA

Tags: NASA, announcement, arsenic, bacteria, life

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Describing self (again, perhaps for the last time), I'm just an amateur/armchair scientist. But it's important to try to understand and explain points of view of the masses, and how they may (or should try to) perceive Science.

1) I found Felisa/NASA's presentation and narrative exciting and scientifically "thoughtful". But when watching the whole thing again on youtube, both my interest and possible skepticism increased because her presentation seemed unusually polished and confident. I found an older video of her at the lake which confirmed my original impressions, to the point where I was hoping she's not just overly zealous/confident. Here's an under-3-minute summary that I think shows a really positive side of her. If you only have a minute, just watch from 1:17 to 2:17.

2) So NASA's in on this, too. Yay for NASA's support of research on Earth! Earth holds quite a well of profound discoveries still waiting to be tapped! [/impish-SEG]

3) I'm hoping for lemonade here. Some way to justify replaying this Felisa-meme, for the good of the masses. I like that polish and confidence, especially in a woman! (Not to mention, I was thinking the whole time "this is good for kids, too".)
This is awesome.
These types of lifeform will be useful in the process of terraforming other planets because they'll allow us to naturally convert material that is toxic to us into material that is usefull.  They're also talking of using micro-algae who produce 90 % of the oxygen on Earth and consume carbon to terraform Mars.

Another article about the discovery, without so much hyperbole.

It is amazing that P atoms were close to completely replaces by As atoms. In the DNA, the proteins and lipids... a very astounding discovery!

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Aftermath

Posted by Belle Rose on September 20, 2014 at 2:42am 0 Comments

PI = 4

Posted by _Robert_ on September 16, 2014 at 8:53pm 5 Comments

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