NASA Discovers Arsenic-Based Life; Profound Effect on Search for ET

Geomicrobiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon, collecting lake-bottom sediments in the shallow waters of Mono Lake in California. Wolfe-Simon cultured the arsenic-utilizing organisms from this hypersaline and highly alkaline environment. Credit: ©2010 Henry Bortman

NASA PRESS RELEASE

NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.

Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components.

“The definition of life has just expanded,” said Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it.”

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