Monday, 15 October 2012
New Research Buries “Arsenic Loving” Bacterium
NASA researchers found the bizarre microbe in Lake Mono, California. Image courtesy of Michael Gäbler, Wikipedia.
In December 2010 NASA announced that it was about to disclose an important discovery that had to do with extraterrestrial life.
It did not have anything to do with little green men, however. Published in the journal Science, the discovery was about a bacterium that was believed to be able to use arsenic instead of phosphorus.
Within a few days, scientists began expressing their scepticism of the discovery.
Recently, a paper published in Nature found that the “arsenic loving” bacterium was not so weird after all.
According to Nature News, “A bacterium that some scientists thought could use arsenic in place of phosphorus in its DNA actually goes to extreme lengths to grab any traces of phosphorus it can find.”
The article went on to say,
“Dan Tawfik, who studies protein function at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and his colleagues have now teased out the mechanism by which some of the bacterial proteins bind to phosphate and not arsenate. The study … suggests that just one chemical bond holds the key, and shows that the ‘arsenic-life’ bacteria have a strong preference for phosphorus over arsenic.”
It seems that a belief in weird life forms produced by evolution motivated the original arsenic paper, which, of course, says something about the naturalistic faith of some researchers.
Cressey, Daniel. 2012. Transport proteins show 4,000-fold preference for phosphate over arsenate. Nature News (3 October).