NASA has discovered a completely new life form that doesn't share the biological building blocks of anything currently living on planet Earth, using arsenic to build its DNA, RNA, proteins and cell membranes. This changes everything. Updating live.
All life on Earth is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same. NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe Simon and her team have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the newly discovered microorganism - called GFAJ-1 - uses the poisonous arsenic for all its building blocks.
The new life forms up close, at five micrometres.
According to Felisa:
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. 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. The implications of this discovery are enormous to our understanding of life itself and the possibility of finding beings in other planets that don't have to be like planet Earth. Like NASA's Ed Weiler says: "The definition of life has just expanded. 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."
Even closer, showing their internal structure.
While this new life form hasn't been found in another planet, this discovery does indeed change everything we know about biology. I don't know about you but I've not been so excited about a bacteria since my STD tests came back clean. And that's without counting yesterday's announcement on the discovery of a massive number of red dwarf stars, which may harbour a trillion Earths, dramatically increasing our chances of finding extraterrestrial life.
Mono Lake photography by Sathish J - Creative Commons