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A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus

Hal Harris's picture
Thu, 12/02/2010 - 01:00 -- Hal Harris

This is the article that was hyped by NASA as possible justification for an expanded notion of the limits of "life as we know it", an attempt to boost their own stock in astrobiology. The authors, who were funded by NASA, took a bacterium from the alkaline and mineral-filled Mono Lake in California, and found that it could be made to grow in increasingly concentrated arsenate solutions, leading to misleading headlines about an "alien" species. In a much brighter spotlight than the authors had anticipated, the paper has also drawn a large amount of criticism, most of which can be read online. Even non-subscribers can read the abstract of the paper at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2010/12/01/science.1197258.abstract. The criticism began with a thoughtful, skeptical blog post by Rosie Redfeld, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia. Her original post and hundreds of comments can be read online at http://rrresearch.blogspot.com/2010/12/arsenic-associated-bacteria-nasas.html. One can also get a "personal" insight into this ongoing controversy from the lead author herself, at http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2010/12/arsenic-researcher-asks-for-time.html. This exchange is more public and somewhat more ascerbic than is usually found amongst colleagues, but it gives the reader a peek at how scientists (and some others) argue about controversial results.

Pick Attribution: 

Felisa Wolfe-Simon et al.

Publication Date: 
Thursday, December 2, 2010