NASA's extraterrestrial buzz

UPDATE2: 12/2/2010 10:15AM PST, NYT reports on this a full hour before the NASA news conference at 2PM EST (11AMPST) that it is in fact about arsenic microbes. – Anthony

UPDATE: It may not be so profound as I conjectured below after all. Our always sharp WUWT readers point me to articles in the Daily Mail (and also Telegraph blogs) which say it is more terrestrial in nature than extraterrestrial.

Nasa scientists are set to announce that bacteria have been discovered that can survive in arsenic, an element previously thought too toxic to support life, it can be revealed.

In a press conference scheduled for tomorrow evening, researchers will unveil the discovery of the incredible microbe – which substitutes arsenic for phosphorus to sustain its growth – in a lake in California.

The remarkable discovery raises the prospect that life could exist on other planets which do not have phosphorus in the atmosphere, which had previously been thought vital for life to begin.

But it seems like old news, as this paper from 2004 talks about microbes using Arsenic in Mono Lake: The microbial arsenic cycle in Mono Lake, California

There is also this earlier story from The Times, from May 2010 asking: Do alien life forms exist in a Californian lake? The scientist, Felisa Wolfe-Simon, quoted in that article, is also on the NASA press panel tomorrow. If they are indeed announcing arsenic microbes in Mono Lake, it sure seems like they waited a long time to do it, and the press release wording invites a lot of speculation.

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Little Green Bug?

From NASA’s press release here there’s been a lot of buzz and speculation around the blogosphere on what may be announced tomorrow.

It may be mundane, such as they’ve found some building block of life in some comet or asteroid sampling mission, or they may have found evidence of life somewhere. I doubt it will be anything higher than microbe level if they do. Still, that would be fantastic news in itself. But after looking at the publications in the CV of one of the participants, James Elser of Arizona State University and his work in desert environments, plus Pam Conrad, co-author of a papers on Death Valley geology and how it pertains to Life signatures on Mars, I’m going to make a SWAG and offer that the press conference may have something to say about discovering the ingredients of and/or byproducts of life on Mars, via some samples from Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. It is one possibility.

The other SWAG possibility I see is some discovery from the Cassini mission and Titan, Saturns’ largest moon, which has a chemical soup “smog”. Earlier this year on June 3rd, NASA made a press release titled:

What is Consuming Hydrogen and Acetylene on Titan?

Here’s the money quote:

“We suggested hydrogen consumption because it’s the obvious gas for life to consume on Titan, similar to the way we consume oxygen on Earth,” McKay said. “If these signs do turn out to be a sign of life, it would be doubly exciting because it would represent a second form of life independent from water-based life on Earth.”

But then there’s this:

“Scientific conservatism suggests that a biological explanation should be the last choice after all non-biological explanations are addressed,” Allen said. “We have a lot of work to do to rule out possible non-biological explanations. It is more likely that a chemical process, without biology, can explain these results – for example, reactions involving mineral catalysts.”

I suppose if deep sea hydrothermal vents can support chemosynthetic bacteria using hydrogen sulfide for food, why not hydrogen and acetylene?

Of the two possibilities I cite, I’m thinking some announcement about Cassini and Titan has a higher probability.  Maybe it will be somethings as simple as “we see signs of life on Titan, but we need more money to find out”.

We’ll find out in about 24 hours.

MEDIA ADVISORY : M10-167

NASA Sets News Conference on Astrobiology Discovery; Science Journal Has Embargoed Details Until 2 p.m. EST On Dec. 2

WASHINGTON — NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

The news conference will be held at the NASA Headquarters auditorium at 300 E St. SW, in Washington. It will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency’s website at http://www.nasa.gov.

Participants are:

–     Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington

–     Felisa Wolfe-Simon, NASA astrobiology research fellow, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif.

–     Pamela Conrad, astrobiologist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

–     Steven Benner, distinguished fellow, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Gainesville, Fla.

–     James Elser, professor, Arizona State University, Tempe

Media representatives may attend the conference or ask questions by phone or from participating NASA locations. To obtain dial-in information, journalists must send their name, affiliation and telephone number to Steve Cole at stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov or call 202-358-0918 by noon Dec. 2.

For NASA TV streaming video and downlink information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

For more information about NASA astrobiology activities, visit:

http://astrobiology.nasa.gov

– end –

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105 thoughts on “NASA's extraterrestrial buzz

  1. I really hope it is irrefutable evidence of extraterrestrial life, even if it is only microbes. People have been expecting this for quite a while. One has to wonder what the social ramifications of it will be to the world view of any number of religions, etc.

  2. LOL not that I care a whole lot. But how come my post in Tips yesterday for this was deleted, but Larry’s wasn’t and now it’s a story?
    REPLY: I don’t know, I didn’t see the note yesterday. Perhaps it got deleted along with spam comments. We have had a barrage of spam posts lately, several hundred a day, so I apologize to you and to anyone who has seen posts gone missing. The effort of wading through all the dreck to sort out good comments is considerable, don’t take it personally if things get accidentally deleted. – Anthony

  3. I’m tipping that they’ve “discovered” that politicians do not qualify as intelligent life.
    But we knew that already – so where’s the “new” in that?

  4. Maybe they have created a robust computer MODEL of an extraterrestrial life form! They certainly need the funding at NASA. Perhaps there is even an Islamic connection.

  5. Actually NASA will only present their results about the planet Mars. Since they’ve been roving around now for a while on that other place they can absolutely positively unequivocally conclude that “maybe” Mars “might” really exist and “perhaps also it might” really be a planet, in our “solar” system no less.

  6. Its Arsenic instead of Phosphorus — so ATA?
    Via the Daily Mail:
    “Nasa scientists are set to announce that bacteria have been discovered that can survive in arsenic, an element previously thought too toxic to support life, it can be revealed.
    In a press conference scheduled for tomorrow evening, researchers will unveil the discovery of the incredible microbe – which substitutes arsenic for phosphorus to sustain its growth – in a lake in California.”

  7. This might be about an organism that survives in an extreme Earth environment with a radically different chemical-life supporting process and generates different by-products than other organisms. The upshot is that trying to detect life on other worlds by searching for the “normal” life markers will be complicated or expanded due to this discovery. Or they’ll try to make some claim that this organism may have some origin from another place in the solar system. Of course this is just a guess! Without a landing probe that has the proper on-board lab equipment it’s hard to prove anything.

  8. Knowing NASA, this will be filled with “could’s” and “if’s” and a bunch of other weasel words that will make a bad car lease seem reasonable.

  9. I agree… they will ask for more money to send an astrobiology lab to Titan. By the time the mission is done, most of those guys will be retired.

  10. According to the news here, they found in a Californian lake a bacterium with arsenicum in it building blocks in stead of fosphor (if my spelling is correct).

  11. Hydrogen and oxygen/carbon lifeforms would be an explosive mix. If there’s any intelligent life reading this that breathes in free protons, please keep your distance.

  12. I suppose if deep sea hydrothermal vents can support chemosynthetic bacteria using hydrogen sulfide for food, why not hydrogen and acetylene?

    I’d give a passing nod to Thomas Gold and his Deep, Hot Biosphere. He actually wasn’t the first to propose that. Some Soviet scientists were, unknown to him till later. He took a lot of flack, and still does, even in the grave. But the undersea vents are a half-way step toward what he argued, that not only did life begin way down below (something the Johnny-come-lately establishment claims for Titan and others), but he also argued that the majority of life on Earth still exists down there.
    Wikipedia, that ultra-reliable consensus purveyor, sayeth:

    Although the abiogenic [also known as abiotic] hypothesis was accepted by some geologists in the former Soviet Union, most geologists now consider the abiogenic formation of petroleum scientifically unsupported.

    Life will come in many forms. From what I have learned about the chemical makeup of genetics (nothing learned in real depth, however), I actually am doubtful it will come in other forms than hydrocarbon-based. Hydrogen vs water is still going to be hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons are so active and multiplexing.
    So, though they may come out and tell us about the “building blocks of life,” they’ve been telling us about those since they dreamed up the lightning in the boggy soup scenario. After that “step forward”, they pontificated that they would figure out how to make life themselves before long. That was a half century ago, about the time others promised fusion reactors. It is a shell game, and there never really is anything under any of the shells – but they keep on getting grant moneys.
    Flim flam? Yes, to some degree…
    As many here are aware, when scientists go down a blind alley, they don’t ever admit their error.
    If I am wrong on this, I will be the first to credit them. But I doubt it. I will read this later and hold to a skeptical POV about both its validity and its significance. I suggest that it will be another incremental “next step” that gets no one anywhere – but that funnels more government funds into another mini black hole dead end.
    The game is not scientific advancement, but advancement and continuation of careers. Press releases are just one of the gears in that mechanism.

  13. The title is misleading. “Even arsenic lakes in California are suitable for life” — seems more appropriate. With subtitleds for humor impared: “(This is why real estate is so damn expensive there)”

  14. UPDATE: It may not be so profound as I conjectured below after all. . .
    Hey, conjecturing is half the fun! As long as I don’t have to pay for it, it could be ALL the fun.

  15. I’m interested but not too excited. If they had discovered alien life, would they put off the announcement or would it be a breaking story on all the news channels?

  16. Okay, while I was writing, others piped in about arsenic as a building block of some life forms. So, in other words, they found out something that contradicts “everything they thought they knew about the topic at hand.”
    And once again, the “we know everything about everything already, so STFU” position of science – or rather, Science – is blind-sided by the real world.
    I will (literally) file this in my Science Does It Again folder.
    They do this 5 to 20 times a year. After a while, how do we keep on believing them when they tell us they know everything about any topic? You know, there are Michael Manns and Phil Joneses in ALL the sciences. People here still seem to have an adoring and worshipful POV toward scientists other than climatologists. I’ve been around enough other science enough to know the Mann-Jones attitude is pervasive in science. The idea of the honest inquirer got left at the starting gate, way back with The Royal Society. They had no sooner set down their Scientific Method than they were accepting violations of it. The seemingly always grumpy and intransigent – but very principled – Robert Hookes was livid about that.
    Remember, to think that arsenic is not compatible with life is only a speculation about the totality. Punctuated evolution was a small bow to the reality that says, “No matter how much you have learned (and you may have learned that well), Mother Nature will knock you off your pedestal sooner or later.”
    There truly are “…more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
    And we are all Horatio.

  17. “Scientific conservatism suggests that a biological explanation should be the last choice after all non-biological explanations are addressed,”
    I wish such sensible scientific conservatism was still applied to the planet we live on.

  18. ….Curiousgeorge says:
    December 1, 2010 at 1:02 pm
    I really hope it is irrefutable evidence of extraterrestrial life, even if it is only microbes. People have been expecting this for quite a while. One has to wonder what the social ramifications of it will be to the world view of any number of religions, etc…..
    As a Catholic, I can’t see how it would affect my social world view in any way what-so-ever. I have always believed that God has created life throughout the entire universe.

  19. OK, since we’re all rampantly speculating:
    How about “we found traces of arsenic in the little bug spots in the Martian Meteorite so maybe they were bacteria like in California lakes!?”
    FWIW, the notion that life must be carbon based and use oxygen is naive. At temperatures that are very high, or very low, other chemicals will have the needed activity and water, CO2, et.al. will either be hard rocks or corrosive vapors.
    So I’d fully expect to find some OTHER chemicals that make a nice complex set of chains of “stuff” that can have active chemical sites in it when folded. Just at very high temps it might be something like silicon based while at very low it might be more like a nitrogen in ammonia system. On an outer planet / moon we can find things like methane lakes. So it’s the solvent. Then the question is just ‘what makes polymers’ at liquid methane temperatures. At higher temps we get lakes of things like lead and rocks. So maybe it’s going to be a silicon polymer that takes those temperatures. (And remember that at hydrothermal vents we have Carbon / Water life at oven temperatures, so you have to explore your chemistry at ultra high pressures too…)
    The simple fact is that we don’t know nearly enough about what kinds of strange chemistry can happen with all possible mixes of elements at extreme pressures and temperatures. What we do know comes mostly from a limited number of experiments with modestly pure mixes of things.
    So to think that we know the limits on what kinds of self replicating chemical reactions can occur and when they can become complex enough to be called ‘life’ is just hubris.
    But my bet is that they are going to do “show and tell” on a terrestrial bug and then say this means alien life is far more likely (and please send more money for a new Mars probe as we found arsenic in some deposit somewhere…)

  20. HR says:
    December 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm
    “WUWT announces aliens living in California!” 😉
    —————————————–
    Yep, they sure do, especially resident aliens like me.
    This is really interesting. I see the Telegraph link is to another Tom Chivers piece. Whatever is being announced, his comment about a separate biogenesis of the organism is such garbage. Fortunately, he had the good sense to have someone correct him later in the article.
    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tomchivers/100049458/arsenic-life-forms-in-yosemite-evidence-of-alien-life-wait-and-see/
    I’m guessing arsenic replacing phosphorus on phosphorylated proteins from this organism, but would be amazed if it could replace the phosphorus in DNA or RNA. I hope I’m amazed.

  21. So, let’s forget Cancoon for while… Dont repare that more one COP is happening, and will be another fail. Forget it! The agenda must go ahead! Lights! Camera! Action!!!

  22. “Phosphorus in the atmosphere”
    Phosphorus compounds are too heavy to have a significant atmospheric lifetime. Earth is not a planet with atmospheric phosphorus, but Jupiter is… does that mean there is life on Jupiter?

  23. I agree with Helen Hawkins again.
    Religious people have considered extraterrestrial life since as far back as the writers of the Bible. It’s scientists who can’t seem to get a handle on it.
    Andrew


  24. So, let’s forget Cancoon for while… Dont repare that more one COP is happening, and will be another fail. Forget it! The agenda must go ahead! Lights! Camera! Action!!!

    Oh… sorry
    I forgot: change the scenario too!!!! Rapid!

  25. I have often wondered why there is only carbon-based life on this planet, and why our scientists seem to be looking only for carbon life both terrestrially and extra-terrestrially. Why isn’t there any silicon based life, considering that silicon is such a common element? or any other element for that matter. This arsenic eating bacteria sure beats the lot, but it is still carbon based. it only replaces phosphorus with arsenic. Maybe one day Craig Venter would be able to create a synthetic life form not based on carbon, but on some other element.

  26. Does NASA have any credibility left? Serious question.
    So life exists in other parts of the universe. I want a second opinion … LOL

  27. But it seems like old news, as this paper from 2004 talks about microbes using Arsenic in Mono Lake

    Maybe someone’s research grant is expiring and they need a new one. Seems to me that is what happens. When someone needs a few million dollars in a hurry, they spend a couple thousand on a PR agency to generate a press release that gets media buzz. Now who could refuse their grant request after this has hit the paper?
    I believe it is hype.

  28. Well they are just a wee bit late on discovering bugs that live on Arsenic; well at least 55 years too late, because back when I was in High school taking a chemistry class, which actuallyt took place right in the chem lab, one of the students was playing around with a flask that was on the shelf full of chemicals, and it had a liquid in it with some moldy growth floating around on the surface.
    The Chem teacher saw him messing with it, and went to investigate, and discovered that the flask was full of some Arsenic chemical solution; and those bugs were living it up on that stuff.
    And if you don’t want to annoy some lady, then I suggest your don’t give her Arsenic !

  29. I saw this issue and this lake discussed in a Discovery channel documentary hosted by Morgan Freeman called “Through the Wormhole – Episode “How did we get here”” – It talks about how this unusual microbe is able to use Arsenic rather than Phosphorus in its DNA and would indicate that DNA-RNA-type molecules could be made two different ways and/or using two different biological rules. Basically, all the DNA and RNA is based on the same architecture except for this microbe which can survive with Arsenic substitution.
    I don’t think it is all that unusual that bacterial evolution would allow slightly different forms of DNA to be around but anyway …

  30. Barry Day says:
    December 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm
    [snip – sorry, no UFO links are welcome here ~mod]
    Wow,I never thought WUWT would be intolerant of any differing opinions stoop to NASA’s level of selective control,what a supprise.
    We should always seek the truth where ever it takes us.
    “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident.”
    “The UFO appears more and more to
    be one of the grimmest realities ever
    confronted by the human race.
    — From Gods of Eden”
    [To disagree with site policies about UFO’s, one need only create/pay for a (different) site that agrees with your desired policies on UFO’s. 8<) Robt]

  31. HR says:{December 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm}
    “WUWT announces aliens living in California!” 😉
    We’ve known that since the first time Jerry Brown was elected Governor.

  32. I’m 40+ years from my last chemistry class, but I recall that carbon chem (organic back then) was more complex than all the rest combined. I find it hard to believe you could get the necessary complexity outside of carbon. Which does impose some limits on what is likely. At the microbe level, things are a bit easier, and allow wider variation.
    Lots of “coulds”, “mights”, and “possiblys”. But no little green men.

  33. “[To disagree with site policies about UFO’s,” I just wish to understand “why” such site policies without a good reason when the whole purpose of WUWT to exist comes across as finding a way to the truth in science in an open manner, including extraterrestrial science.Just like climate changes,so does our understanding of extraterrestrial life forms.

    REPLY:
    It is for the same reason that we don’t want chemtrails, HARRP, and 9/11 truther discussions here. – Anthony

  34. This is no big deal surprise. I used to work in an office at 8th Avenue and 35th Street in New York. I’ve known for twenty years that there are aliens amongst us and that there truly is life after death.

  35. I am not UFO fanatic, but i must say i agree with Barry on this..
    I can understand why you dont want this article to be about UFO’s, but what is wrong with a video link?? It is entirely ontopic and makes you look a bit like a hypocrite when you make fun of scientists who claim they know everything. Simple fact is that people see unexplained objects in the sky.
    I personally dont think aliens are capable of visiting earth due to such long distances, but there is clearly something very unexplained popping up in our skies that could be anything from aliens, secret projects or even just some atmospheric phenomena.
    And isnt this site supposed to cover interesting/odd phenomenas related to weather/atmosphere as well?

  36. Bad Andrew says:
    December 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm
    I agree with Helen Hawkins again.
    “Religious people have considered extraterrestrial life since as far back as the writers of the Bible. It’s scientists who can’t seem to get a handle on it.”
    Some have,have a listen to Barbara Joy O’Brien – Co-author of ‘Genius of the Few’
    http://www.goldenageproject.org.uk/videoBJOB.php

  37. Useless factoid: the similarity between phosphates and arsenates was first studied by a chemist called Alexander Borodin, who happens to also be the composer.

  38. SNIP – get it through your head sir, no UFO discussions here. Take it elsewhere or be banned. Final warning. – Anthony

  39. I was hoping for a tardigrade in cometary dust. It can’t be coincidence that the little blighters can take thousands of times more radiation than other lifeforms, liquid nitrogen temperatures, boiling in acid etc.
    JF

  40. Considering what life they have found so far on other planets it is going to take a lot of looking. And they are not going to know for sure if they don’t look. It would be good if it does not have a global warming hook.

  41. Over at the Telegraph in the UK, Dr Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiologist at the Centre for Planetary Sciences in London, is quoted as follows: “If these organisms use arsenic in their metabolism, it demonstrates that there are other forms of life to those we knew of.”
    I must say that I adore this scientist’s plain way of speaking. He refers to the new life form as: “other forms of life to those we knew of.” Isn’t this the only reasonable description at this time? How does someone take “other forms of life to those we knew of” and get “alien life form?” Isn’t this just the cheapest kind of hype? Isn’t it exactly analogous to “new more chocolaty Coco-Puffs?” I am so embarrassed for science; that is, for those institutions and people who once practiced science.

  42. Some 2,500 years ago, Anaxagoras found it quite reasonable to think that life was common throughout the heavens. The much quoted Arrhenius, much more recently, fully agreed. Even more recently, Fred Hoyle, who was no dumbbell at all, became convinced that life on Earth did not originate here at all but arrived in the atmosphere from outside in microorganic form, and he also believed it continues to arrive as we speak.
    Intelligence in some form or another is a visible feature of life in all its manifestations. Now, if intelligence emerges from matter, this can only mean it is already present somehow in matter. By whatever means the elementary particles managed to organize themselves into, say, a human brain, or an ant, or an argon atom, it is very odd to think they did it out of the blue. Appealing to “laws” of nature does not help my perplexity. To follow any “laws” you must at least have a sense that laws should be followed. Why should the muon, or the positron, or anything else, follow (and keep on following) the “laws” that apply to their identity? Why indeed? Just think about it.
    And specially, why does it come as a surprise that in a world known to consist of an incomprehensibly monstruous number of conglomerations of matter, similar forms of organizations of matter exist as here on Earth? Why?

  43. I don’t understand why it is so “important” that we know if there is life elsewhere. Given the number of different stars, planets and galaxies, I think it is pretty safe to assume that it is a virtual certainty that biological processes have developed elsewhere.
    So once you assume there is biology elsewhere, the “importance” of finding it diminishes. Even a religious person wouldn’t find it hard to believe that maybe God had a few spare days to work in some other part of the universe.
    We will discover it eventually when we run across it. It probably isn’t worth spending very large sums to look for, particularly in these times. This smacks of someone angling for funding and producing justification for it via media theater.
    Ok, so what if we found evidence of green algae on some planet around a star. Now, what do we do with it? Absolutely nothing. It becomes a piece of information that is “nice to know” but does nothing to advance the condition of the human race.
    Even if Earth is a one-in-a-billion case, there would be billions of Earths. Maybe even billions of billions. To expect that biological processes exist nowhere else is somewhat naive, in my opinion.
    Lets stop wasting money searching for grains of sand at the beach and start spending on something more worthwhile … like maybe a permanent colony off the planet or something.

  44. WAIT A MINUTE!!! The United States EPA has official regulations limiting the amount of Arsenic in water. These Bugs better not be exceeding these limits or they are in BIG trouble.

  45. Barry Day says:
    December 1, 2010 at 6:39 pm
    “SNIP – get it through your head sir, no UFO discussions here. Take it elsewhere or be banned. Final warning. – Anthony”
    ” Where was the UFO discussion in the last posts? only >>>evidence of extraterrestrial life<<< that was in my discussion,sir.and that was validifying the evidence by Quotes from Presidents, Astronauts, Senior Military and more
    "WASHINGTON — NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for >>>evidence of extraterrestrial life<<<. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.”
    REPLY: One of the links provided earlier was to some nutball in Australia that snapped a photo of a “muscle car UFO”. I’m not having that sort of rubbish here. You then went to “UFO’s” on the sun, which I don’t want either. Be as upset as you wish, but no UFO discussions are wanted here. – Anthony

  46. Well, I very much hope its not just arsenic bugs in California lakes. As Anthony notes, that doesn’t appear to be ‘new’ news at all.
    They’ve been studying various bugs that use arsenic for some time. They’ve also been found in a number of places around the world including Mono Lake and Searles Lake in the Mohave (which has a far higher arsenic content than Mono does apparently). Apparently since the mid-1990’s over 20 species of what are called dissimilatory arsenate respiring prokaryotes (DARPs) have been discovered. There’s a bit of technical info at: http://microbiology.usgs.gov/geomicrobiology_arsenic.html
    Other extremophiles can survive unthinkably, incredibly, high radiation levels, or are sulfur based lifeforms. There are bacteria that live on oil, and others have been found more than a mile deep underground. They’ve even found a bacteria that can survive as a colony naked in space for over 100 days.
    Sooooo – unless there’s something really unique about this particular bug, I’ll be rather disappointed if this is just about arsenic lovin’ bacteria…
    Life is incredibly inventive and tenacious. Given a little bit of real estate, and life will find a way to exist, survive, and have puppies reproduce.

  47. I don’t BELIEVE in UFO’s, I know that UFO’s exist because I have seen some myself, that is, unidentifiable flying objects that defy known laws of motion and dynamics. I am not saying that they belong to little green men from Mars or tall grey blokes from alpha centauri or wherever. I just don’t know what these were. It’s just that I have seen, three times, objects that defy known technology and physics. And I was not alone, hence it was either a real thing or a collective mental disturbance of some sort. That said and done.Full stop. But this subject (UFOlogy) does not belong here, so, please all of you here who have nothing to do please go and do your nothing somewhere else.

  48. The legume Neptunia amplexicaulis, a native of west Queensland, substitutes selenium for sulphur in some amino acids. It grows. Selenium can reach up to 0.5% of the dry weight of seeds. Poisonous to sheep, though. This was known before 1964.

  49. It was thought that volcanic vents on the oceanic ridge system were lifeless untill someone looked and found scores of new species living in the hot sulphurous water. Yellowstone has some rare algae and bacteria living in the hot springs. If life can start somewhere it will adapt and thrive. Only humans fail at the first change in the weather.

  50. re post by: James Bull says: December 1, 2010 at 11:37 pm
    “It’s life Jim but not as we know it!”
    James, shame on you! Stop referring to Mr. Spock that way, would ya?

  51. NASA – Not Another Stupid Article
    2001 Fern eats up arsenic
    Scientists have discovered a fern that thrives on arsenic.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1146555.stm
    2004 Arsenic metabolism of two species of arsenic-tolerant bacteria
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aoc.590040311/abstract?
    The Arsenic Eaters
    As documented in the mid-1800s, mountaineers of central Austria (Styria) made a habit of consuming arsenic preparations once or twice a week as a general stimulant and tonic. They became known as “arsenic eaters,” and some were reputed to have adopted the practice as a means of building up a tolerance against poisoning by their enemies. The acquisition of a modest degree of tolerance has, in fact, been documented in laboratory animals, but its physiological basis is not clear.
    http://www.dartmouth.edu/~toxmetal/metals/stories/arsenic.html

  52. Worth noting that Mono Lake was the focus of a fairly big environmental battle back in the early ’80s. If it wasn’t for the National Audobon Society (in particular, but also others), the lake may well have been drained and this lifeform wiped out decades before its discovery.
    This goes back to the days before the web, so there’s not much on line about it, but I found Google book extract.

  53. kuhnkat says:
    December 1, 2010 at 8:17 pm
    WAIT A MINUTE!!! The United States EPA has official regulations limiting the amount of Arsenic in water. These Bugs better not be exceeding these limits or they are in BIG trouble.

    Relax…. 1996 – Water comes clean with arsenic eaters
    Researchers led by Michel Leblanc, who works for the French national research agency, CNRS, at the University of Montpellier, found the bacteria in a stream running through the abandoned Carnoules lead and zinc mine in the Cevennes mountains in southern France. The bacteria are thought to be strains of Thiobacillus and Leptothrix. They convert the soluble form of arsenic into a relatively stable, less toxic precipitate.
    Water upstream of the colonies contains up to 300 milligrams of arsenic per litre—30 000 times the WHO safety limit for drinking water. Water only two kilometres downstream has less than 0.4 milligrams per litre. In between, the sediment contains between 9 and 20 per cent arsenic.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg15020252.800-science–water-comes-clean-with-arsenic-eaters.html

  54. Its not that they can survive in arsenic, its that the “organism” was FORMED from arsenic. Meaning that phosphorous is not as important as nasa first thought in finding life. The announcement will be about re-surveying places that have been ruled out for containing life because probes didn’t find enough or no phosphorous, like the moons of saturn and jupitar. Mainly Titan

  55. If the researchers had read past issues of the AMAs Journals of Bacteriology they would have dicovered several Genus and species of bacteria on good old Terra are not dependent on Carbon based metabolism.

  56. Arsenic Microbes?? How desperate are these people for attention! Arsenic Microbes? That’s supposed to be big news? Come on!!

  57. @alex
    Not that they were FORMED from arsenic, that they could, potentially, incorporate arsenic into their DNA instead of phosphorus to upwards of 10% of the DNA. That means, 90% of the DNA still requires phosphorous, let alone all the other myriads of biochemical reactions that utilize phosphorus like ATP, the energy molecule.
    Arsenic is just not stable at all in the presence of water. Also, I am very skeptical about the claims, as there is no DEFINITIVE proof that the arsenic detected was actually in the DNA. Metals, like arsenic, are very good at “sticking” to biomolecules, and DNA could easily be chelating the arsenic between the bases in a non biologically relevant way; just as DNA does to copper if exposed to it, and many other heavy metals. This would cause the metal to be carried with the DNA though any processing methods, unless specific metal chelators are used (which were not stated by the lab in question. An extreme oversight as this is a fundamental check that should have been done and trumpeted. But, perhaps it was and the news is just poor at reporting the really important info).
    Additionally, no method to completely remove phosphorous was used. Not only could there be trace phosphors in the media, but on the very beakers themselves, and even introduced by the handling of the materials by the people. Phosphor, like calcium, is everywhere. The only way to get rid of it below the levels useable by microbes is to chelate the heck out of it as the day is long. I am sure there are specific phosphorous chelators out there they could have used.
    Finally, even if arsenic is being used in the DNA backbone of these buggers up to 10%, there must be serious stabilization proteins or other molecules protecting those DNA regions, as simple chemistry gives any sort of arsenic compound a half life in the range of MINUTES before it is hydrolized into pieces by water. This is a hard fact of the chemistry of arsenic, and you aren’t going to change it any more than you can change the physical constant of gravity on this planet. I’m sure there could be ways to stabilize an arsenic DNA backbone in the context of chromatin, but once it’s been liberated and run on a gel for extraction? There shouldn’t have been any solid DNA left to analyze. Again, pointing to non specific association of the metal with the DNA, which is again a well known and common occurrence for DNA with a variety of metals.
    But, if, just if, what they are reporting is all true, it is a huge discovery for the implications of how biochemistry trickery can be performed and life can adapt. Arsenic is a poison for a reason; so until a clear mechanism is shown and further tests involving chelators are done, at the least, I will remain skeptical of their results. No less interesting though, to have these bacteria that can survive in nutrient depleted conditions with rife amounts of arsenic around, however!
    Oh, and this is NOT a new form of life in ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM. These guys have the normal 16S ribosomal RNA as everyone else, which is how they could be sequenced and put on the tree of life. They are normal microbes that have adapted to extreme arsenic conditions, maybe even so much so as to be able to “temporarily” use arsenic in DNA until phosphorous becomes available again for use. Notice that the bacteria can grow just the same between the two substrates in the growth media.
    If arsenic had been obligatory, then that would really have been interesting, but it isn’t. It doesn’t need arsenic, it can simply tolerate it in perhaps a new and novel way.

  58. Does this mean that in the interest of promoting biodiversity, arsenic-poisoned toxic waste sites will now become protected nature preserves?
    The Sierra Club will blow a gasket over that.

  59. Ok, I admit to mixed feelings now and not quite a dissappointed as I thought I’d be yesterday if this was the announcement.
    The little beasties do look fatter and happier on arsenic, don’t they? Or, who knows, maybe they’re just more bloated. {VBG} I do wonder at the comparative efficiency in this same bug when they’re living on arsenic v. phosphorus. Imagine we’ll be hearing all sorts of interesting tidbits along those lines before long.
    So, yes, other mini-critters live off of or use arsenic in their metabolism as has been known for a long time. I suspected yesterday that I was missing some aspect of this that would make it worthy of the attention it was getting, and now I get it, this bug isn’t just using it peripherally in their metabolism, but actually replacing one of the very few base elements we’ve always thought had to be present for a life form (well, that is, outside of speculation and science fiction, where we’ve all thoroughly enjoyed trying to conceive of how biochemistry might work otherwise). So…. ok, the older known arsenic bugs don’t have that little trick in their bag – or at least, we didn’t THINK that they did. I imagine now a lot of extremophiles will be examined far more closely to see just what they may be pulling off inside that we hadn’t realized.
    This also, of course, takes the idea and theoretical speculation of possible life on planets (or in areas here on Earth) without phosphorus into the realm of quite reasonable investigation. I’m sure another good effect will be spurring folks to look for elements other than arsenic that other life here on earth may be substituting in where we hadn’t thought possible too.
    Well, I’m not saying much new so I’ll quit rambling.

  60. Oh – I do wonder if the other known arsenophiles can live without access to large amounts of arsenic. In other words, for at least some of them, I wonder if their metabolism or photosynthesis is dependent on arsenic… or if they’re flexible and just make do with it when whatever they normally use is unavailable or in short supply….

  61. re post by Malaga View says: December 2, 2010 at 8:07 am
    Water upstream of the colonies contains up to 300 milligrams of arsenic per litre—30 000 times the WHO safety limit for drinking water. Water only two kilometres downstream has less than 0.4 milligrams per litre. In between, the sediment contains between 9 and 20 per cent arsenic.
    Thanks for this info Malaga View – that’s some pretty impressive transformation rates.

  62. re post by Ged Darkstorm says: December 2, 2010 at 12:16 pm
    Not that they were FORMED from arsenic, that they could, potentially, incorporate arsenic into their DNA instead of phosphorus to upwards of 10% of the DNA. That means, 90% of the DNA still requires phosphorous, let alone all the other myriads of biochemical reactions that utilize phosphorus like ATP, the energy molecule. ….
    Ged, where did you get your info related to arsenic incorporation in this bug please? From the looks of the cell cultures, the species grew better in arsenic than phosphorus. The video clip, while not all that clear, certainly makes it look as if all of the phosphorus in the DNA backbone was replaced with arsenic, as it was in NADH, ATP, AcetylCoA, etc. I’m trying to follow the link on that announcement page to the associated research, but am getting a server error.

  63. The NASA press release is at http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2010/dec/HQ_10-320_Toxic_Life.html – in part:
    Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components.
    Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur are the six basic building blocks of all known forms of life on Earth. Phosphorus is part of the chemical backbone of DNA and RNA, the structures that carry genetic instructions for life, and is considered an essential element for all living cells.
    Phosphorus is a central component of the energy-carrying molecule in all cells (adenosine triphosphate) and also the phospholipids that form all cell membranes. Arsenic, which is chemically similar to phosphorus, is poisonous for most life on Earth. Arsenic disrupts metabolic pathways because chemically it behaves similarly to phosphate.
    “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,” said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA astrobiology research fellow in residence at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., and the research team’s lead scientist. “If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven’t seen yet?”
    The newly discovered microbe, strain GFAJ-1, is a member of a common group of bacteria, the Gammaproteobacteria. In the laboratory, the researchers successfully grew microbes from the lake on a diet that was very lean on phosphorus, but included generous helpings of arsenic. When researchers removed the phosphorus and replaced it with arsenic the microbes continued to grow. Subsequent analyses indicated that the arsenic was being used to produce the building blocks of new GFAJ-1 cells.

  64. Curiousgeorge at 1.02 pm asks what effect an extraterrestrial microbe would have for religion. In my protestant/molecular biologist’s opinion, nothing fundamental would be affected. We already have vast varieties of non-human life on earth. If you can believe in a faith under those conditions, what difference would some ET microbes make? Nor would even intelligent aliens necessarily prove or disprove anything fundamental here. Suppose such aliens had beliefs similar to mine. This would be easy for me to accept. But a sceptic will say: this just proves that minds evolving on different planets tend to come up with similar ideas.

  65. Thank you Ric. I’d actually gotten that part, and watched the short video beneath it (cannot believe it has no narration). It was the link to more info that I was having troubles with but I’ve since been able to access it also – not much more info there. None of it seems to support or provide the details that Ged posted, however, which is why I’m wondering where he got the info.

  66. Having read the NASA press release, I have to say I’m pretty ticked off that they are touting this as an entirely new discovery (by NASA) without mention of the 2004 academic paper.

  67. In a press conference today, a spokespore for the microbe colony anounced how excited they were about the discovery of finding such a large organism such as NASA in a lake containing arsenic. However, the colony was divided as to whether this discovery constituted an extra-lake lifeform. Before the spokespore could respond, the colony divided again. The bacterial scientists are currently seeking funding for their research from various ant poison companies. ( big ant).
    Sorry guys, couldn’t resist it. 🙂

  68. Rob Huber says:
    December 2, 2010 at 3:35 pm
    Having read the NASA press release, I have to say I’m pretty ticked off that they are touting this as an entirely new discovery (by NASA) without mention of the 2004 academic paper.
    ——————————-
    Yeah, the press release is really lame, especially this part:
    “The key issue the researchers investigated was when the microbe was grown on arsenic did the arsenic actually became incorporated into the organisms’ vital biochemical machinery, such as DNA, proteins and the cell membranes. A variety of sophisticated laboratory techniques were used to determine where the arsenic was incorporated.”
    The Introduction and Experimental Procedures is summarized, but then they don’t say anything about the Results and Discussion. What were the results, pray tell ?? Does anyone know if the arsenic was actually incorporated at any level into DNA ?? Was there a press conference where this was discussed ?? If this was the case, then that would be a major discovery, and a huge advancement on the 2004 paper.

  69. Straight from the paper:
    “Stationary phase cells incorporated approximately a tenth of the total
    intracellular (73)AsO4(3-) label into nucleic acids but more than
    three quarters of the (73)AsO4(3-) into the phenol extracted
    “protein” fraction, with a small fraction going into lipids. We
    caution that the large “protein” fraction is probably an
    overestimate, as this extraction step likely contains numerous
    small, non-proteinaceous metabolites as well.”

  70. Oh, wanted to post this too:
    “However, GFAJ-1 is not an obligate arsenophile and it grew
    considerably better when provided with P (Fig. 1A, B).
    Although AsO4(3-) esters are predicted to be orders of
    magnitude less stable than PO4(3-) esters, at least for simple
    molecules (8), GFAJ-1 can cope with this instability. The
    vacuole-like regions observed in GFAJ-1 cells when growing
    under +As/-P conditions are potentially poly-β-
    hydroxybutyrate rich [as shown in other Halomonas species
    (19)] which may stabilize As(V)-O-C type structures because
    non-aqueous environments appear to promote slower
    hydrolysis rates for related compounds (8). We propose that
    intracellular regions or mechanisms that exclude water may
    also promote this stability.”
    “Table 1. Bulk intracellular elemental profile of strain GFAJ1.*
    (% dry weight)
    Condition (n) As P As:P
    +As/-P (8) 0.19 ± 0.25 0.019 ± 0.0009 7.3
    -As/+P (4) 0.001 ± 0.0005 0.54 ± 0.21 0.002
    *Cells grown and prepared with trace metal clean techniques (11). Number in parentheses indicates replicate samples
    analyzed.”

  71. re post by: re Ian Middleton says: December 3, 2010 at 1:04 am

    In a press conference today, a spokespore for the microbe colony anounced how excited they were about the discovery of finding such a large organism such as NASA in a lake containing arsenic. However, the colony was divided as to whether this discovery constituted an extra-lake lifeform. Before the spokespore could respond, the colony divided again. The bacterial scientists are currently seeking funding for their research from various ant poison companies. ( big ant).
    Sorry guys, couldn’t resist it. 🙂

    LOL! Good twist, Ian!

  72. Was watching a program about the intelligence of crows. Have seen videos of killer whales working as a group to trick a seal to it’s death. It seems that humans are not the only animal capable of reason and intelligent behavior (although questionable in humans, LOL ). By extension, it seems reasonable to me that nature is predisposed to evolving intellect not only on earth but on other life sustaining planets (planets that can support multiple forms of species like earth). Even though we have yet to confirm the existence of earth-like planets, their existence again seems plausible. Due to the unimaginable distances involved in the known universe, I do not believe the earth has been “visited”. That being said, it is entirely plausible, and entirely reasonable that intelligent life exists ( or has existed) throughout the universe. Many here have poo-pooed the Drake equation, but I, for one, think it has merit. Cudos to Paul Allen for funding SETI.

  73. And just to re-iterate; after having checked with one of my high school chums; I can definitely vouch for a bacteria or mold (what’s the difference) that can chow down on strong Arsenic solutions; that was observed in a flask of Arsenic solution on a shelf in the main Chemistry lab at Otahuhu College; which used to be called Otahuhu Technical High School. That was in 1953 or possibly 1952; I will have to check my report cards for those years. The school, which is still there is about 12 miles south of Auckland city center in New Zealand.
    The chemistry Teacher’s name was Branch; and I remember him as Cliff Branch , but my chum doesn’t recall the Cliff. And if you go there; as I did as recently as 2004, you can check that I passed through that place as my name is second on on the list, on a plaquue of names on the front wall by the main stage in the assembly hall. It’s to the right of the stage; just in case you can’t find it. That was a 53rd reunion anniversary that I went to in 2004.
    So what is the chance that a bug can chow down on Arsenic; and NOT be incorporating it into the cell chemistry.
    And for the legal disclaimer; NO we did not sequence the DNA and analyse it to determine where the Arsenic was incorporated; nor did we bother to identify it as identical to the NASA Arseni-bug. Hey you’ve seen one Arsenic eating critter; you’ve seen them all.

  74. Slight correction to above. The reunion mentioned was in 2006; not 2004. I did go there in 2004, but not to the school; just to fish and have fun.

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