Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Scientists poke holes in NASA’s arsenic-eating microbe discovery

When NASA announced the discovery of an arsenic-eating microbe in a California lake last week, the agency hailed it as a suggestion that life as we know it, well, isn't life as we know it.

"We have cracked open the door to what is possible for life elsewhere in the universe," Felisa Wolfe-Simon of the NASA Astrobiology Instituteand U.S. Geological Survey, who led the study, said at a news conference.

NASA's team of astrobiologists had taken samples of the bacteria from mineral-dense Lake Mono -- in a volcanic region of Northern California near the Nevada border -- and starved them of phosphate, the meal of choice for most DNA-based organisms. Instead, the scientists force-fed the bacteria a form of arsenic, and, much to the researchers' surprise, the bacteria continued to grow and flourish on their new diet of poison.
But then other scientists began digging into the paper outlining NASA's research and findings, and they're now charging that the research behind it is flawed.

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