Arsenic-Based Life, Open to Critique

A researcher is repeating the controversial experiments that suggested a bacterium used arsenic rather than phosphorus in its DNA—with the world watching.

Aug 10, 2011
Edyta Zielinska

Mono Lake, where the bacteria were collectedIMAGE 2010 HENRY BORTMAN

Rosie Redfield of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver is redoing the work published last year by Felisa Wolfe-Simon at the NASA aAstrobiology Institute and colleagues on an organism that was reported to use arsenic rather than phosphorus in its DNA.

The report was widely questioned by the scientific community when it was published last year, but no scientists appeared eager to repeat the work to verify or refute it, as most thought it was a waste of time, according to Nature. Now, Redfield is attempting to repeat the studies and blogging about her progress, including her failures, in what she calls her open science research blog.

Although science is often done without much discussion among the community at large, revealing the steps and missteps of the scientific process, especially on such a high-profile and controversial study, could help engage the public and reveal a side of science that is rarely seen, Jonathan Eisen of the University of California, Davis, told Nature.  It also offers a chance for other researchers to offer their suggestions and opinions on how to improve the experiments or what to look at next, Jean-Claude Bradley at Drexel University added.