The Weekend Debate: NASA’s Mono Lake Discovery -What are Its Implications?

03arsenic-popup-v2 “There is basic mystery, when you look at life. Nature only uses a restrictive set of molecules and chemical reactions out of many thousands available. This is our first glimmer that maybe there are other options,” said Dimitar Sasselov, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and director of an institute on the origins of life.

NASA scientists said Thursday that they had trained a bacterium from ancient Mono Lake, California to eat and grow on a diet of arsenic, in place of phosphorus — one of six elements considered essential for life — opening up the possibility that organisms could exist elsewhere in the universe or even here on Earth using biochemical powers we have not yet dared to dream about.

This story is not about Mono Lake or arsenic, said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA astrobiology fellow at the United States Geological Survey pictured above, but about “cracking open the door and finding that what we think are fixed constants of life are not.”

What do you think?


Image: Felisa Wolfe-Simon takes samples from a sediment core she pulled up from the remote shores of 10 Mile Beach at Mono Lake in California. With thanks to the New York Times and NASA.

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