New NASA Discovery Expands Scientists’ Definition Of Life

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — NASA has announced the discovery of a microorganism that is able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic in the Mono Lake research area in California.

“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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All other known forms of life on earth use the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur as their basic building blocks. The newly-discovered microbe, strain GFAJ-1, uses arsenic in place of phosphorus.

“The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction,” said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the agency’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “Until now a life form using arsenic as a building block was only theoretical, but now we know such life exists in Mono Lake.”

The research is published in this week’s edition of Science Express.

For more information, visit http://astrobiology.nasa.gov


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