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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Iron Lisa and the Arsenic Prokaryotes

NASA's press conference this morning didn't disappoint.

When I saw that Mary Voytek, Felisa Wolfe-Simon and Pamela Conrad were going to be keynoting the NASA press conference today, I knew this was going to be something big. There had been a lot of speculation (and hype) that NASA had found solid evidence of life on Mars, Enceladus or Titan. With the exception of finding thriving life on Titan (which today's announcement may well point toward), what actually was announced today is far more mind-shattering than any of these. Geomicrobiologist Felisa "Iron Lisa" Wolfe-Simon and her team at Mono Lake CA found a halobacteria which in the absence of phosphorus is building its DNA out of arsenic.

Which means, or at least implies, that life could be constructed  not only out of the traditional terrestrial "CHONPS" elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur) but conceivably out of any any combination of elements, so long as their outer valences matched up.

Grab a periodic table and an old O-chem 101 textbook and chew on that one for a bit.

Many thousand thanks and congratulations to Iron Lisa and her team!
Here's the full article in Astrobiology Magazine:

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