Thursday, December 2, 2010

NASA discovers new life

Arsenic-based life. Yes, that's an over-simplification, but still. I've heard theories on chlorine breathers and silicon-based life (made famous by the Horta in Star Trek) and even hydrogen- and methane-breathers, but dang, this is bizarre:
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.

Two possibilities come immediately to mind: 1) this evolved elsewhere and came to Earth via panspermia, or 2) life evolved on Earth twice, separately. Either way, this implies that at least simple life may be common in the universe. Simply stunning.

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