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To Infinity and Beyond! A Life-form That Shouldn’t Exist, Exists

2 Dec 2010

Basic Biology 101. “Life as we know it requires particular chemical elements and excludes others,” Arizona State University researcher Ariel Anbar noted in a news release. “But are those the only options? How different could life be?”

We all know that every living thing on planet Earth is made from building blocks consisting of DNA and RNA made from carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulfur and phosphorous. True? Yes, but think again.

Earlier today, NASA scientists have announced the discovery of a bacteria in “sediments from California’s Mono Lake” that uses primarily only Arsenic (As) as its building blocks, it is only previously known that there were Arsenic-breathing bacteria. Arsenic is usually toxic to living organisms.

Life that incorporated other elements as building blocks used to only exist theoretically and science-fictionally, and as far as we “used” to know, there are tons of bacteria that does weird stuff, for example ones that use Iron as an extracellular electron transport chain to generate ATP (Geobacter) — or in layman’s terms, generate energy from a source outside of the organism — kind of like eating and producing energy just by touching metal. Yet to truly use different building blocks is something unique and has the potential to dramatically change the way biology is taught.

The infamous bacteria GFAJ-1.

One conclusion that can be drawn from this discovery is that “The definition of life has just expanded,” as Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, said. “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.”

The primarily efforts from NASA is to find extraterrestrial life. With an altered and broader definition of life, the possibility of aliens just increased exponentially — they might very well find some ridiculous alien soon enough. For all we know, there might still be undiscovered elements out there in the great beyond (Iron Man, anyone?). This means there is not only an expanded possibility of life, but that the form itself could very well be completely different — the possibilities have just become INFINITE, literally! Science fiction just took a whole step towards reality.

With this bit of news, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if we found methane breathing life on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, or water-based life on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons as they are long suspected to contain extraterrestrial life.

Such open-endedness to the possibilities of life!

If anyone of you gamers out there has played Spore, you would have an idea.

[NASA via CNN; images via NASA]

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