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admin | What Treats Bv | 15.09.2013
Out of the hundred-plus elements in existence, life is mostly made up of just six: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus.
Nor do the bacteria belong to a second branch of life on Earth – the so-called “shadow biosphere” that Wolfe-Simon talked about a year ago. When she studied the genes of these arsenic-lovers, she found that they belong to a group called the Oceanospirillales. Phosphorus helps to form the backbone of DNA and it’s a crucial part of ATP, the molecule that acts as a cell’s energy currency.
In 2008, Ronald Oremland (who was also involved in the latest study) discovered bacteria in Mono Lake that can fuel themselves on arsenic. She took sediment from Mono Lake and added it to Petri dishes containing a soup of vitamins and other nutrients, but not a trace of phosphorus.
By giving the bacteria a mildly radioactive form of arsenic, Wolfe-Simon could also track where the element ended up in the cells.
Nor is it clear if the arsenic-based molecules are part of the bacteria’s natural portfolio. Under the microscope, the bacteria become around 50% larger if they grow on arsenic compared to phosphorus, and they develop large internal compartments called vacuoles.
That hasn’t stopped the hype machine from rolling forward, fuelled by a public announcement from NASA, teasing a press conference about an “astrobiology discovery”.
Update: John Sutherland from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge adds to the skepticism. I guess NASA is having a hard time getting funded, that’s the reason behind this hype. If I am allowed to extend the polemic even further, frankly I don’t see how can astrobiology be considered a proper science. As cool as this is, arsenic is not a good substitute for phosphorus and so this is likely to be an isolated example. Since Wolfe-Simon took samples and diluted them she was, in effect, creating a very powerful homeopathic remedy.
Also, are we to assume that sulpholipids are exclusively being used in the membranes of this organism? If there is some astrobiologist friend out there: sorry but that’s what I think, can you show I’m wrong?
And you are simply wrong, astrobiologists have found life among the stars – we are it. Also, as a second leg we have started to look at planetary bodies with similar imbalances as our biosphere has made, Mars (methane) and Titan (hydrogen, acetylene, carbon isotope ratio) are among them.
For those who want to see the article here is the direct link to science(access to science required), not sure why the DOI link does not work.
On the other hand, the evidence for incorporation of arsenate into the nucleic acid backbone seems convincing to me. OK, so glucose alone does not have phosphorus in it, but glucose phosphates form critical steps in sugar metabolism. The important thing with this, IMHO, is that such a handicap can be fought against by increasing the turnover of such component parts. You’re pretty much equating searching for life on other worlds than our own to searching for the invisible pink unicorn. Most telling to me: As was found in the P-fed bacteria (at ppb levels on the same order of magnitude as in the As-fed bacteria), and the bacteria are from an As-rich environment, so isn't it plausible that *both* As-fed and P-fed bacteria contained a smattering of As in some of their biomolecules? Am I missing something, or is there little evidence of As-based biochemistry, and next to none to indicate that the As-feeding aspect of the experiment showed anything except that depriving these bacteria of phosphorus causes them to lose phosphorus and become very bloated? What I’m trying to say is just that, imho, it cannot (yet) considered a proper branch of biology in its own right, such as microbiology or plant pathology or acarology etc.
At first blush, what this does suggest (if it’s proven true) is that there are alternatives for known macromolecule synthesis that uses alternate elements.
Regardless, a finding like that, of a *vastly* different codon table, would certainly be major news and freaking off the hook exciting. Doesn’t Figure S2 show that the bacteria contain 100-fold more P than A even after culture in medium with no added P? Editor's Note (January 30, 2012): Other researchers are saying they've not been able to replicate the production of bacteria in arsenic, calling into question the findings presented below.

A new species of bacteria found in California's Mono Lake is the first known life-form that uses arsenic to make its DNA and proteins, scientists announced today. Arsenic is toxic to most known organisms, in part because it can mimic the chemical properties of phosphorus, allowing the poison to disrupt cellular activity.
The newfound bacteria, described online this week in the journal Science, not only tolerates high concentrations of arsenic, it actually incorporates the chemical into its cells, the study authors found. While for now Earth is the only place we know that life exists, the discovery does hold implications for the search for life elsewhere in the universe, since it shows that organisms can exist in chemical environments biologists once wouldn't have imagined. Last year study leader Felisa Wolfe-Simon of NASA's Astrobiology Institute published a paper suggesting that one possible version of Life 2.0 would be a creature that chemically substitutes arsenic for phosphorus.
So Wolfe-Simon and colleagues took samples of bacteria from California's Mono Lake, a briny, arsenic-rich lake in a volcanic valley southeast of Yosemite National Park. The scientists cultured Mono Lake bacteria in Petri dishes, gradually increasing the amount of arsenic while reducing phosphorus. Despite their oddity, however, the bacteria are genetically too similar to ordinary life to truly be descendents of a second genesis.
Still, the GFAJ-1 strain might be called the most unusual of the extremophiles, bacteria that thrive under exceptionally harsh conditions, such as high heat, high salt, and low oxygen. Patient has 75 per cent of his SKULL replaced with 3D-printed implant New Energy Storage Breakthrough Could Revolutionize Alternative Energy Arizona Inmates File Class Action Lawsuit Over Health Conditions and Solitary Confinement North Korea And Red Dawn: A Real Threat ACLU Conducting Full Scale Report on Police Militarization Our Silence Is Destroying This Nation Leaked Pentagon Video – Flu Vaccine Used To Modify Human Behavior, In Their Own Words! For example, this breathlessly hyperbolic piece, published last year, suggests that finding such bacteria would be “one of the most significant scientific discoveries of all time”. She took samples from these dishes and added them to fresh ones, gradually diluting them to remove any phosphorus that might have stowed away onboard. As mentioned, Wolfe-Simon still found a smidgen of phosphorus in the bacteria by the end of the experiment. Bear in mind that Wolfe-Simon cultured these extreme microbes using ever-increasing levels of arsenic. Some switch on genes that give them resistance to arsenic poisoning, while others can even “breathe” using arsenate. In the mean time, the angle being used to sell the story is that this might have implications for alien life.
However, I can’t help but feel that the result will be a lot of disappointed people, who’ve been robbed of an opportunity to be excited about a genuinely interesting discovery. For the moment, check out the Guardian’s story tracker for a comprehensive look at the coverage, responses, and counter-responses.
Since no alien form of life has been discovered yet (conspiracy theorists might disagree), as of now it can be purely speculative.
As I understand it, that concept refers to a second branch of life that evolved independently from everything we know. Part of the reason is basic chemistry; compared to the phosphate esters in DNA, arsenate esters are very unstable and are hydrolyzed remarkably fast. It explains based on basic principles of chemistry why phosphates rather than arsenates or silicates have been chosen by life.
And since the bactieria thrived in this culture that’s proof that homeopathy works…right? The course, as well as most books, use Earth as a case study against the processes of planetary system formation, probiotic & protobiotic chemistry et cetera.
They show that most of the As was found in the sub-cellular fraction containing small molecular weight metabolites which would normally include ATP. Aquascape Wetland Pond and Lake contains 8 pure strains of concentrated beneficial bacteria, including PSB bacteria and enzymes. Such a discovery would prove that, before life as we know it came to dominate the globe, the world had actually seen a separate, independent origin of life.
Chemical analyses with radioactive tracers showed that the GFAJ-1 strain bacteria was in fact using arsenic in its metabolism. Biochemically they were pretty normal," said McKay, who wasn't a member of the study team.
It has been used as a murder weapon and it contaminates the drinking water of millions of people.

But the Mono Lake bacteria may have broken their dependence on one of the group – phosphorus – by swapping it for arsenic. It would imply that “Mono Lake was home to a form of life biologically distinct from all other known life on Earth” and “strongly suggest that life got started on our planet not once, but at least twice”. They still contain detectable levels of phosphorus in their molecules and they actually grow better on phosphorus if given the chance.
Bacteria from the same order are munching away at the oil that was spilled into the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.
The two elements have such similar properties that arsenic can usurp the place of phosphorus in many chemical reactions.
With no outlet connecting it to other bodies of water, any chemicals flowing into the lake tend to stay there.
Using an extremely sensitive technique called ICP-MS that measures the concentrations of different elements, she showed that the cells of these bacteria did indeed contain large amounts of arsenic. The levels were so low that the bacteria shouldn’t have been able to grow but it’s still not clear how important this phosphorus fraction is.
In doing so, she might have artificially selected for bacteria that can use arsenic in place of phosphorus, causing the denizens of Mono Lake to evolve new abilities (or overplay existing ones) under the extreme conditions of the experiment. Wolfe-Simon thinks that the vacuoles could act as a safe haven for unstable arsenic-based molecules – they might contain chemicals that steady the molecules, and they might keep out water that would hasten their breakdown. In teasing their own press conference two days ahead of time, and refusing to budge on the embargo when the first information trickled in, NASA effectively muzzled everyone who knew about the actual story while allowing speculation to build to fever pitch.
For Sutherland, the acid test would be actually synthesising a double helix of arsenic-based DNA and characterising its structure in detail. That makes this finding even more impressive, but it also precludes extensive substitution of arsenic for phosphorus in DNA-like genetic material. There are a lot of amazing stuff in this study and it’s nice to separate out the solid stuff from the fluff. Aquascape Wetland Pond and Lake maintains a strong biological balance providing clean, clear and healthy water conditions.PSB (Photo Synthetic Bacteria) help quickly clear pond water by clumping fine debris and allowing it to settle. It’s just that they might be able to do without this typically essential element – an extreme and impressive ability in itself. They aren’t a parallel branch of life; they’re very much part of the same tree that the rest of us belong to. But arsenic is a poor understudy – when it stands in for phosphorus, it produces similar but less stable products. As a result, the lake has built up some of the highest concentrations of arsenic on the planet. Wolfe-Simon has taken these discoveries a step further, by showing that the bacteria are actually incorporating arsenic into their most important of molecules.
It had replaced phosphorus in many important molecules including ATP and glucose (a sugar). NASA, I think, is really want to show its reason d’etre among this long lasting economic recession.
This is only exciting if As is *not* in the DNA of the P-fed sample – that is, if the As-fed sample in fact *incorporated* As into its DNA (and is using As-substituted biochemistry, which remains to be studied). But in California’s Mono Lake, Felisa Wolfe-Simon has discovered bacteria that not only shrug off arsenic’s toxic effects, but positively thrive on it. It was even in their DNA, a conclusion that Wolfe-Simon backed up with a number of other techniques.
If bacteria on Earth can exist using a biochemistry that’s very different to that of other microbes, it stands to reason that aliens could do the same. They can even incorporate the poisonous element into their proteins and DNA, using it in place of phosphorus. All other life uses phosphorus to create the backbone of the famous double helix, but GFAJ-1’s DNA had a spine of arsenic.

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