No Arsenic-Based Life

Two new studies conclusively prove "arsenic-based" bacteria hailed by NASA researchers as a new form of life needs phosphate after all.

By | July 9, 2012

JERRY KIRKHART" > Mono Lake, California, where the bacteria were found FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS, JERRY KIRKHART

When NASA announced in December 2010 that its researchers had discovered a bacteria (GFAJ-1) that used arsenic in the backbone of its DNA instead of phosphate, the implications for alternative forms of life set the media and scientific community into a frenzy. An alternative DNA structure could mean an entirely new root for an evolutionary tree that grew up alongside the phosphate-bearing DNA structure used by every organism currently known on Earth.

But controversy over the methodology led many to challenge the result, and two papers published online today (July 9) in Science convincingly show that GFAJ-1 does in fact need phosphate to grow, and cannot survive when only arsenic is present instead. Furthermore, neither study found arsenic within or bound to the DNA of the bacteria.

One of the papers' authors, Rosie Redfield from the University of British Columbia, has been blogging about her progress in testing the claim, and released a version of her team's study in February. Watch this video of her journey, recorded February 2012.

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Avatar of: RobertD


Posts: 1457

July 10, 2012

"The more dramatic your finding, the better your evidence has to be." 

Despite the embarassment of having a finding disproved, the process of making and challenging claims worked as you would want science to work.  I do think 1) Science magazine was too quick to publish a remarkable claim without getting more feedback, and 2) because NASA's name was attached to the work, reporters were straining to make this claim evidence for alien life from other planets, rather than the more mundane claim of a weird life form on Earth.

July 11, 2012

I don't agree with RobertD.  I don't want science "to work" by employing practitioners who don't do proper controls. It's a waste of taxpayers' money and other scientists' time.  There are plenty of exciting, paradigm-shattering phenomena and concepts in nature that should be be explored that are REAL.  It's a distraction from serious work to have to rebut shoddy experimentation.

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