Sunday, December 12, 2010

NASA Discovers New Form of Life? (Video) "The definition of life has just expanded"

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Mono Lake, California: Where the microbe, strain GFAJ-1, was discovered


NASA Discovers New Form of Life?: "The definition of life has just expanded"

The Discovery All life observed was believed to have 6 biochemical requirements, building blocks, to exist, survive, and reproduce: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, phosphorous. That was until the discovery by NASA-funded astrobiology research of GFAJ-1, a microbe in the common group of bacteria, the Gammaproteobacteriahis. In an experiment, GFAJ-1 was ultimately fed only arsenic, a toxic chemical, and no phosphorous, until "the microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components". GFAJ-1 was discovered at Mono Lake, California and the research results were announced at a NASA press conference on December 2.

The Implications First, although GFAJ-1 may interact with other biological entities in the Mono Lake ecosystem, a form of life based on other elements can potentially live in a separate ecosystem. It is certainly possible that other similar life forms such as a modified GFAJ-1 could exist in an ecosystem independent of the ecosystem as normally defined and observed. Second, life based on the 6 building blocks, biochemical requirements, leave signatures through chemical processes. These signatures are searched for in the Universe, on exoplanets in other solar systems, to detect extraterrestrial life. If other building blocks, biochemicals, are utilized by life, past searches may have been futile to begin with and future searches will need to incorporate detection of new signatures.

The Hype? GFAJ-1 was a normal bacteria to begin with. It was only through an experiment that phosphorous was removed and replaced with arsenic. That is, when GFAJ-1 was discovered, the 6 necessary biochemicals, including phosphorous, were being utilized as would be expected. In an experiment the phosphorous was replaced with arsenic. GFAJ-1 continued to function normally with arsenic and this is an important, if not profound, discovery. GFAJ-1 was not a new form of life until then, the experiment. There is some disagreement in the scientific community if phosphorous was replaced by arsenic by GFAJ-1.

(ABC News) "Breakthrough in NASA's Search for Life in Space" John Berman reports on the newest finding from NASA.



GFAJ-1
A microbe in the common group of bacteria, the Gammaproteobacteriahis


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