NASA scientist discovers arsenic-based alien life form – on Earth

NASA finds life living in arsenic

A NASA researcher has discovered a bacterium unlike any other life on Earth living in the arsenic-laced waters of Mono Lake in California. Image: CC loop_oh/Flickr

News that NASA has discovered a new life form based on arsenic broke Thursday morning. The scoop leaked a few hours before a much-anticipated NASA press conference related to the search for extraterrestrial life. NASA’s discovery was actually made on Earth, where a life form based on arsenic was found in a toxic California lake.

NASA finds life in Mono Lake arsenic

A NASA researcher discovered life in the form of a microbe that thrives in the arsenic-laced waters of Mono Lake in California. In an announcement of Thursday’s press conference earlier this week, NASA said it had discovered evidence that will impact the search for extraterrestrial life. The fact that the life form was discovered on Earth may be a let-down for those who hoped for a more exotic discovery from NASA. But life that can survive in arsenic leads scientists to believe many more planets exist supporting life than previously thought.

NASA’s terrestrial alien

The microbe in poisonous Mono Lake was discovered by geobiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon. Simon found that the microbe uses arsenic in place of phosphorus — an element previously considered vital for all forms of life on Earth. All life on earth shares the basic components of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sulphur and phosphorous. Wolfe-Simon’s bacterium substitutes arsenic for phosphorous. Arsenic was considered highly toxic to all forms of life until Wolfe-Simon’s discovery. The geobiologist had suggested earlier that the alien ecosystem of Mono Lake could have started life on a different evolutionary tangent, and apparently she was right.

What Wolfe-Simon’s discovery means

Based on what they knew before Wolfe-Simon’s discovery of life that is part arsenic, astrobiologists believed phosphorous had to be present in a planet’s atmosphere for lifeforms to take hold. That approach to life on other planets has been turned on its head by an alien life form living on our own world. In an interview about her work at Mono Lake in The Sunday Times earlier this year, Wolfe-Simon said that in the search for life on other planets, “This may help us to develop tools to look for something we have never seen.”

Sources

The Daily Mail

The Sunday Times

Gizmodo

Other recent posts by bryanh