NASA Finds New Life Form, Made of Arsenic, in the Poisonous Mono Lake

BacteriaNew life-forms! Right here on Planet Earth! Jesus Diaz writes on WIRED Science:

Hours before their special news conference today, the cat is out of the bag: NASA has discovered a completely new life form that doesn’t share the biological building blocks of anything currently living in planet Earth. This changes everything.

At their conference today, NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe Simon will announce that they have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the bacteria uses arsenic. All life on Earth is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same.

But not this one. This one is completely different. Discovered in the poisonous Mono Lake, California, this bacteria is made of arsenic, something that was thought to be completely impossible. While she and other scientists theorized that this could be possible, this is the first discovery. The implications of this discovery are enormous to our understanding of life itself and the possibility of finding beings in other planets that don’t have to be like planet Earth.

No details have been disclosed about the origin or nature of this new life form. We will know more today at 2pm EST but, while this life hasn’t been found in another planet, this discovery does indeed change everything we know about biology. I don’t know about you but I’ve not been so excited about a bacteria since my STD tests came back clean. And that’s without counting yesterday’s announcement on the discovery of a massive number of red dwarf stars, which may harbor trillion of Earths.

Read More on WIRED Science

35 Comments on "NASA Finds New Life Form, Made of Arsenic, in the Poisonous Mono Lake"

  1. I wish they didn’t have NASA tell everyone about this. It makes everyone assume they really found life that didn’t originate on earth. It is amazing and ground-breaking that we did find non-phosphorous based life forms, but it was found in a toxic lake where there was probably a high abundance of arsenic. It is all in all more likely that this is another example of an extremophile(all of which have been “earthshattering” to the world of biological science). This most likely only confirms the extreme resilience of life as we know it. I suppose the only relavence to NASA is that they can look into planets more planets with wierder environments for evidence of life…

  2. I wish they didn’t have NASA tell everyone about this. It makes everyone assume they really found life that didn’t originate on earth. It is amazing and ground-breaking that we did find non-phosphorous based life forms, but it was found in a toxic lake where there was probably a high abundance of arsenic. It is all in all more likely that this is another example of an extremophile(all of which have been “earthshattering” to the world of biological science). This most likely only confirms the extreme resilience of life as we know it. I suppose the only relavence to NASA is that they can look into planets more planets with wierder environments for evidence of life…

    • Take your point, but NASA was definitely going to be the one to announce this since they funded the research:

      http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/astrobiology_toxic_chemical.html

      It’s amazing to me it is life from a toxic chemical. The next step would be discovering toxic chemicals can also give you super-powers, proving Marvel Comics has been right all these years : )

      • Fair enough i guess i didn’t read too hard into who did the research, but once you’ve seen a couple of extremophiles you pretty much have seen the limitless potential of life. Don’t count on “humans” getting super powers from toxic chemicals any time soon; if you have a couple of generations wallowing in toxic waste(and surviving), you may get some human-like beings with strange attributes but they probably wouldn’t be considered human anymore

    • Haystack | Dec 2, 2010 at 9:22 pm |

      The fact of a new organism existing in an extreme environment isn’t too exciting, but from what I gather this would represent a whole new architecture of life. This would be in a class of its own; the closest thing we’ve ever seen to an alien life form.

      What I’m most curious about is how this organism came to be. If it’s genes are based on different elements than our own, then how could it have evolved from something that carried DNA? Or did it? Did it just crawl out of it’s own primordial soup? The article doesn’t really make it clear.

      • Hadrian999 | Dec 3, 2010 at 3:04 am |

        i don’t think they really know yet

      • How strange would it be if the original primordial soup we evolved from was just a toxic-waste-lake from a fallen civilization hundreds of thousands of years ago. That civilization said “strange, these bacteria use phosphorous instead of our Antimony in our biological molecules.”

  3. Take your point, but NASA was definitely going to be the one to announce this since they funded the research:

    http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/astrobiology_toxic_chemical.html

    It’s amazing to me it is life from a toxic chemical. The next step would be discovering toxic chemicals can also give you super-powers, proving Marvel Comics has been right all these years : )

  4. Fair enough i guess i didn’t read too hard into who did the research, but once you’ve seen a couple of extremophiles you pretty much have seen the limitless potential of life. Don’t count on “humans” getting super powers from toxic chemicals any time soon; if you have a couple of generations wallowing in toxic waste(and surviving), you may get some human-like beings with strange attributes but they probably wouldn’t be considered human anymore

  5. Definitely don’t think anything good can come of toxic chemical exposure (despite what Marvel Comics says : ), but I am curious now how this will affect the search for ET … I just always assumed NASA would be considering other types of biochemistry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothetical_types_of_biochemistry

  6. Through the Wormhole Season 1, Episode 7: What Are We Really Made Of?
    Original Air Date—21 July 2010

    This has a whole section on this topic.

  7. Through the Wormhole Season 1, Episode 7: What Are We Really Made Of?
    Original Air Date—21 July 2010

    This has a whole section on this topic.

  8. Haystack | Dec 3, 2010 at 1:22 am |

    The fact of a new organism existing in an extreme environment isn’t too exciting, but from what I gather this would represent a whole new architecture of life. This would be in a class of its own; the closest thing we’ve ever seen to an alien life form.

    What I’m most curious about is how this organism came to be. If it’s genes are based on different elements than our own, then how could it have evolved from something that carried DNA? Or did it? Did it just crawl out of it’s own primordial soup? The article doesn’t really make it clear.

  9. If arsenic based life can exist in a toxic lake and bullshit based life can exist in a toxic government, then who knows, we might just find unicorns living on the sun next.

  10. If arsenic based life can exist in a toxic lake and bullshit based life can exist in a toxic government, then who knows, we might just find unicorns living on the sun next.

  11. Marklar_Prime | Dec 2, 2010 at 11:02 pm |

    If arsenic based life can exist in a toxic lake and bullshit based life can exist in a toxic government, then who knows, we might just find unicorns living on the sun next.

  12. Hadrian999 | Dec 3, 2010 at 7:04 am |

    i don’t think they really know yet

  13. How strange would it be if the original primordial soup we evolved from was just a toxic-waste-lake from a fallen civilization hundreds of thousands of years ago. That civilization said “strange, these bacteria use phosphorous instead of our Antimony in our biological molecules.”

  14. As awesome as ‘alien life’ hype…maybe not…

    …but a couple days ago I ‘knew’ that life did not thrive on toxic heavy metals…

    …I wonder what I’ll ‘know’ tomorrow 🙂

  15. As awesome as ‘alien life’ hype…maybe not…

    …but a couple days ago I ‘knew’ that life did not thrive on toxic heavy metals…

    …I wonder what I’ll ‘know’ tomorrow 🙂

  16. Not quite... Sorry.. | Dec 3, 2010 at 11:56 pm |

    Shamefully, I’m the guy who has to say this, but:

    This Bacteria USED phosphorus BEFORE these scientists drowned it in Arsenic chemicals. When it was deprived of Phosphorus is when it showed that it could use Arsenic to replace Phosphorus.

    This was all discovered in a lake that has more natural Arsenic levels than most places (with a high natural Arsenic level) on Earth.

    This whole thing is being disputed (the part where it’s replacing the Phosphorus, not whether it can absorb arsenic and thrive anyway), so it’s still up in the air whether or not we need to add Arsenic to the building blocks of life, or whether this is an evolutionarily new adaptation. More info is needed, or you’re gonna have the Bill Clinton Mars life thing again…. sorry.

  17. Not quite... Sorry.. | Dec 3, 2010 at 7:56 pm |

    Shamefully, I’m the guy who has to say this, but:

    This Bacteria USED phosphorus BEFORE these scientists drowned it in Arsenic chemicals. When it was deprived of Phosphorus is when it showed that it could use Arsenic to replace Phosphorus.

    This was all discovered in a lake that has more natural Arsenic levels than most places (with a high natural Arsenic level) on Earth.

    This whole thing is being disputed (the part where it’s replacing the Phosphorus, not whether it can absorb arsenic and thrive anyway), so it’s still up in the air whether or not we need to add Arsenic to the building blocks of life, or whether this is an evolutionarily new adaptation. More info is needed, or you’re gonna have the Bill Clinton Mars life thing again…. sorry.

    • Not quite... Sorry.. | Dec 3, 2010 at 8:37 pm |

      I forgot too add, for clarity:

      Every living thing in the lake has been exposed to much higher than normal Arsenic levels… this one is special because it absorbs Arsenic and the discovering scientists think it’s using it (it is, but..) to replace the Phosphorus it’s been deprived of. It may not have been deprived of all Phosphorus, is the problem.

      Worst case: Really cool extremeophile… Best case: New evidence supporting something else besides the other known elements needed to support life as we know it. We may just know it a little better naow.

      • Thanks for the comments … so the question is did NASA rather CREATE life over a FIND of new life?

        • Not quite... Sorry.. | Dec 4, 2010 at 4:43 am |

          No. It could’nt be that NASA stumbled on to something that humans have never recorded….They do spend alot of money on earthly projects, which totally makes them: Not doing this.

          I suppose it COULD be that NASA created it instead, and blamed it on a dead lake. Cuz that is all they need for a nefarious scheme.. to fuck off for hours a day in a lake. Sadly, you can’t fish well in this one. It’s gotta (not) be UFO’s, right?

          The simpler reason. They found an unusual Bactera in an unusual lake. the worst that could happen to normal folk is that they have to change the textbook on what counts as VERY Earthly life.

          • Fair enough. I was attempting to discern what exactly happened here. I am most curious to know if this would have happened (eventually) without NASA’s intervention. It seems like you would say yes, it would (eventually) happen, but please do illuminate. Thanks for the clarity on this story,

          • Not quite... Sorry.. | Dec 4, 2010 at 2:36 pm |

            Well, like I said, nothing is 100% proven yet. the discoverer could very well be right, but so could the disputers, who claim it’s more likely that the samples used contained phosphorus, and this thing is simply something used to high arsenic levels, and if they get higher, it is more well suited to adapt than its cousins.

            Didn’t mean to be a dick yesterday, btw… Vodka kicked in after comment 2.

            It may be the only survivor if we ever drop that Arsenic bomb we haven’t been developing…lol

  18. Not quite... Sorry.. | Dec 4, 2010 at 12:37 am |

    I forgot too add, for clarity:

    Every living thing in the lake has been exposed to much higher than normal Arsenic levels… this one is special because it absorbs Arsenic and the discovering scientists think it’s using it (it is, but..) to replace the Phosphorus it’s been deprived of. It may not have been deprived of all Phosphorus, is the problem.

    Worst case: Really cool extremeophile… Best case: New evidence supporting something else besides the other known elements needed to support life as we know it. We may just know it a little better naow.

  19. Thanks for the comments … so the question is did NASA rather CREATE life over a FIND of new life?

  20. Not quite... Sorry.. | Dec 4, 2010 at 8:43 am |

    No. It could’nt be that NASA stumbled on to something that humans have never recorded….They do spend alot of money on earthly projects, which totally makes them: Not doing this.

    I suppose it COULD be that NASA created it instead, and blamed it on a dead lake. Cuz that is all they need for a nefarious scheme.. to fuck off for hours a day in a lake. Sadly, you can’t fish well in this one. It’s gotta (not) be UFO’s, right?

    The simpler reason. They found an unusual Bactera in an unusual lake. the worst that could happen to normal folk is that they have to change the textbook on what counts as VERY Earthly life.

  21. Fair enough. I was attempting to discern what exactly happened here. I am most curious to know if this would have happened (eventually) without NASA’s intervention. It seems like you would say yes, it would (eventually) happen, but please do illuminate. Thanks for the clarity on this story,

  22. Psychognosis | Dec 4, 2010 at 10:34 am |

    So the story of how the Toxic Avenger came to be just got a little more clearer.

  23. Psychognosis | Dec 4, 2010 at 6:34 am |

    So the story of how the Toxic Avenger came to be just got a little more clearer.

  24. Not quite... Sorry.. | Dec 4, 2010 at 6:36 pm |

    Well, like I said, nothing is 100% proven yet. the discoverer could very well be right, but so could the disputers, who claim it’s more likely that the samples used contained phosphorus, and this thing is simply something used to high arsenic levels, and if they get higher, it is more well suited to adapt than its cousins.

    Didn’t mean to be a dick yesterday, btw… Vodka kicked in after comment 2.

    It may be the only survivor if we ever drop that Arsenic bomb we haven’t been developing…lol

Comments are closed.