Friday, December 3, 2010

The definition of life redefined by new NASA discovery

Image of GFAJ-1 grown on arsenic. Image credit: Jodi Switzer Blum
Yesterday NASA (National Aeronautics & Space Administration) made a highly anticipated announcement for days. Guess what? It wasn't about finding of a life form from a galaxy far, far away. Instead the discovery made nowhere but in our old Planet Earth.

NASA funded researchers discovered "the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic", after conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California. The newly discovered microbe, strain GFAJ-1, is a member of a common group of bacteria, the Gammaproteobacteria. Why is this discovery so important?

The research team's lead scientist Felisa Wolfe-Simon says, "We know that some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we've found is a microbe doing something new -- building parts of itself out of arsenic. If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven't seen yet?" According to a NASA official, "The definition of life has just expanded."

NASA report claims, "This finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth. The results of this study will inform ongoing research in many areas, including the study of Earth's evolution, organic chemistry, biogeochemical cycles, disease mitigation and Earth system research. These findings also will open up new frontiers in microbiology and other areas of research."

For more information about the finding you can read official NASA report & visit NASA Astrobiology Research web site

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