Arsenic and Old Hat

For days, NASA has built suspense for today’s announcement of a new type of life that, it was implied, had cosmological implications. The information was embargoed until 2PM Eastern today, but the news media was informed that an astrobiologist would be at the press conference.

So what was unveiled? Definitive proof of life among the stars?

No. A microbe that researchers created to absorb arsenic, which is poisonous to nearly all life on Earth, and use it in place of phosphorus.

This is a first, but it didn’t exactly live up to the hype.  Contrary to my initial reading of the story, this microbe was not discovered, it was bred in a lab.  So scientists still haven’t found any naturally occurring life form that can survive without the Big 6: Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus, and Sulfur.  This experiment shows the possibility may exist, that’s all.

What are the consequences of an escaped microbe replicating in the wild with DNA using arsenic instead of phosphate?  Just wondering.

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