AboutZoos, Since 2008


Dutch sci­en­tists say ‘arsenic bac­terium’ is nonsense

pub­lished 23 Decem­ber 2010 | mod­i­fied 29 Decem­ber 2011

Three Dutch sci­en­tists are not con­vinced that the recently found bac­terium which is able to thrive in a toxic envi­ron­ment loaded with arsenic, will change our views on life, as is sug­gested by the author of the arti­cle pub­lished in Sci­ence, 2 December.

In the pub­li­ca­tion it is sug­gested that the bac­terium that was iso­lated from Mono Lake, Cal­i­for­nia, is able to replace all of its phos­pho­rus by arsenic. This would be a spec­tac­u­lar find­ing, as for the first time ever a liv­ing cell on earth would be iden­ti­fied which uses an ele­ment other than the six basic build­ing blocks (car­bon, hydro­gen, nitro­gen, oxy­gen, phos­pho­rus and sul­fur) to sur­vive and evolve. Sci­en­tists Huis­man, Matthijs and Bol­huis say, in last Saturday’s news­pa­per NRC in the Nether­lands, that although being excited at first they think this bac­terium is just another micro-​organism that adapted to extreme cir­cum­stances via well-​known mech­a­nisms. After some cal­cu­la­tions they con­cluded that although the bac­terium is capa­ble of replac­ing most of its phos­pho­rus by arsenic, still 4 per­cent phos­pho­rus is left in the cell. This makes it very likely that the DNA still only got phos­pho­rus atoms next to the other build­ing blocks, and only the rest of the cell con­tains arsenic. This sug­gests that the ‘novel’ bac­terium still thrives and repro­duces on the old reg­u­lar com­po­nents. So, our vision of life on earth survives?

Well, what­ever can be said, it appears that some more research is nec­es­sary to con­vince the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity. Then again, let’s hope this is not a mis­lead­ing research out­come, which is funded and planned by NASA to help them main­tain and ensure their ‘search-​for-​life-​in-​outer-​space’ projects.

(Source: NRC, 04.12.2010)

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