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stubborn_d0nkey 12-07-2010 01:18 PM

NASA-Funded_Research_Discovers_Life_Built_Wit h_Toxic_Chemical
 
http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/..._chemical.html
Quote:

NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.

Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components.

"The definition of life has just expanded," said Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it."

This finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth. The research is published in this week's edition of Science Express.

Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur are the six basic building blocks of all known forms of life on Earth. Phosphorus is part of the chemical backbone of DNA and RNA, the structures that carry genetic instructions for life, and is considered an essential element for all living cells.

Phosphorus is a central component of the energy-carrying molecule in all cells (adenosine triphosphate) and also the phospholipids that form all cell membranes. Arsenic, which is chemically similar to phosphorus, is poisonous for most life on Earth. Arsenic disrupts metabolic pathways because chemically it behaves similarly to phosphate.

"We know that some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we've found is a microbe doing something new -- building parts of itself out of arsenic," said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA Astrobiology Research Fellow in residence at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., and the research team's lead scientist. "If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven't seen yet?"

The newly discovered microbe, strain GFAJ-1, is a member of a common group of bacteria, the Gammaproteobacteria. In the laboratory, the researchers successfully grew microbes from the lake on a diet that was very lean on phosphorus, but included generous helpings of arsenic. When researchers removed the phosphorus and replaced it with arsenic the microbes continued to grow. Subsequent analyses indicated that the arsenic was being used to produce the building blocks of new GFAJ-1 cells.

The key issue the researchers investigated was when the microbe was grown on arsenic did the arsenic actually became incorporated into the organisms' vital biochemical machinery, such as DNA, proteins and the cell membranes. A variety of sophisticated laboratory techniques was used to determine where the arsenic was incorporated.

The team chose to explore Mono Lake because of its unusual chemistry, especially its high salinity, high alkalinity, and high levels of arsenic. This chemistry is in part a result of Mono Lake's isolation from its sources of fresh water for 50 years.

The results of this study will inform ongoing research in many areas, including the study of Earth's evolution, organic chemistry, biogeochemical cycles, disease mitigation and Earth system research. These findings also will open up new frontiers in microbiology and other areas of research.

"The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction," said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Until now a life form using arsenic as a building block was only theoretical, but now we know such life exists in Mono Lake."

The research team included scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Penn., and the Stanford Synchroton Radiation Lightsource in Menlo Park, Calif.

NASA's Astrobiology Program in Washington contributed funding for the research through its Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program and the NASA Astrobiology Institute. NASA's Astrobiology Program supports research into the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life on Earth.

For more information about the finding and a complete list of researchers, visit:
Amazing! This and the new estimate of the number of planets in the galaxy coming close together makes one think.

Axiom 12-08-2010 09:01 PM

Re: NASA-Funded_Research_Discovers_Life_Built_Wit h_Toxic_Chemical
 
The existence of this bacteria is not surprising. We have Macro-organisms that thrive on the lip of open fissures on the bottom of the ocean. I think it uses methane and sulfur for nutrients and heat energy respectively. Nonetheless arsenic has got to be harsh on organic matter. So this is a fascinating feat. I would like know how many PPM of arsenic is present in the water there. Because I wonder how the other organisms cope. Assuming the brine that passes it along to the rest of thee ecosystem. There might be some biological filtering system still undiscovered to account for that. Or whats more likely I simply have not learned of it.

Also like to see how this organism might change after another 50 million years or so. There was a documentary a few years back. A bunch of scientist from various disciplines collaborated with conceptual artists. They showed their theories on how they thought life would evolve in drastically different environments. Came up with some interesting creatures. Massive silicon based organisms. That looked like macroscopic version of a single cell that surfed on top of liquid methane oceans.

Side Note: Considering that NASA is barley more then an 'administrative'(used loosely) shell/ATM. That most of the actual innovation comes from a sub-contracted private sector. Which is the "NASA-Funded" part. I wonder how long before this poor life form is replicated, and some corporate citizen puts a patent on it. It happens.

stubborn_d0nkey 12-09-2010 01:37 PM

Re: NASA-Funded_Research_Discovers_Life_Built_Wit h_Toxic_Chemical
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Axiom (Post 1916220)
The existence of this bacteria is not surprising. We have Macro-organisms that thrive on the lip of open fissures on the bottom of the ocean. I think it uses methane and sulfur for nutrients and heat energy respectively. Nonetheless arsenic has got to be harsh on organic matter. So this is a fascinating feat. I would like know how many PPM of arsenic is present in the water there. Because I wonder how the other organisms cope. Assuming the brine that passes it along to the rest of thee ecosystem. There might be some biological filtering system still undiscovered to account for that. Or whats more likely I simply have not learned of it.

Also like to see how this organism might change after another 50 million years or so. There was a documentary a few years back. A bunch of scientist from various disciplines collaborated with conceptual artists. They showed their theories on how they thought life would evolve in drastically different environments. Came up with some interesting creatures. Massive silicon based organisms. That looked like macroscopic version of a single cell that surfed on top of liquid methane oceans.

Side Note: Considering that NASA is barley more then an 'administrative'(used loosely) shell/ATM. That most of the actual innovation comes from a sub-contracted private sector. Which is the "NASA-Funded" part. I wonder how long before this poor life form is replicated, and some corporate citizen puts a patent on it. It happens.

No, no no. I think you read it wrong (or im reading something wrong). It IS surprising, and it is nothing like those organisms you mentioned. The difference is that your organisms took in the methane, they used it for nutrients. This bacteria is made of arsenic. Thats big, huge! It taking in arsenic wouldn't be, and that is not what this is about

Until this, ALL life, big or small, that we are aware of, had/has six elements as it base (CHNOPS. This bacteria differs. It has As! Thats big news! Everybody should realize why thats big.

kael03 12-09-2010 02:32 PM

Re: NASA-Funded_Research_Discovers_Life_Built_Wit h_Toxic_Chemical
 
I saw this a couple days ago on Yahoo's front page. Several people mentioned another article stating that the bacteria was genetically engineered using bacteria from the lake. It'd be cool if this stuff existed in nature, as it would prove that life isn't completely carbon based.

Axiom 12-10-2010 04:02 PM

Re: NASA-Funded_Research_Discovers_Life_Built_Wit h_Toxic_Chemical
 
^I dont doubt it.

Quote:

Originally Posted by stubborn_d0nkey (Post 1916548)
No, no no. I think you read it wrong (or im reading something wrong). It IS surprising, and it is nothing like those organisms you mentioned. The difference is that your organisms took in the methane, they used it for nutrients. This bacteria is made of arsenic. Thats big, huge! It taking in arsenic wouldn't be, and that is not what this is about

Until this, ALL life, big or small, that we are aware of, had/has six elements as it base (CHNOPS. This bacteria differs. It has As! Thats big news! Everybody should realize why thats big.

You are right I did read it wrong. I did think it was using aresenic as part of an internal process not in its makeup. This is not exactly my field of expertise or interest so I apologize accordingly.

Honestly I'm still not 'surprised' though. Many people have theorized the possibility of life forms that differ drastically as such from our own. Indeed this research is one such theory put through the scientific process. I would go as far to say it is foolish to think that life universally would strictly follow our perceived understanding of biology.

I grant it is fascinating, and potentially ground breaking. Particularly if they repeat, and confirm(which they have not) that the arsenic replaces either phospholipids or more interestingly the phosphorus components of DNA/RNA. Its actually kind of scary to think that a terran bacterial agents chemical makeup is comprised of such. Its pretty easy to imagine some malicious uses for it. Lets hope it remains in the realm of biological understanding. For science!


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