AboutZoos, Since 2008


Def­i­n­i­tion of life has just been expanded

pub­lished 23 Decem­ber 2010 | mod­i­fied 29 Decem­ber 2011

NASA-​supported researchers have dis­cov­ered the first known microor­gan­ism on Earth able to thrive and repro­duce using the toxic chem­i­cal arsenic.

The microor­gan­ism, which lives in California’s Mono Lake, sub­sti­tutes arsenic for phos­pho­rus in the back­bone of its DNA and other cel­lu­lar com­po­nents. 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. “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, 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?”

(Source: NASA Sci­ence News, 02.12.2010)

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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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