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Arsenic-Based Life! (On Earth) Feel the hype.

Arsenic-based lifeform, from XKCD webcomic. Click to go there.

The world has been all a-twitter with NASA’s news of a new life-form discovery. Putting ‘NASA‘ and ‘life-form‘ together in one sentence seems to have got a lot of people worked up that they have discovered life on other planets and that the invaders are coming, but really it’s all a bit closer to home and rather tamer.

GFAJ-1 bacteria - from NASA (link)

Closer to home, maybe, but still really interesting. These bacteria from Mono Lake in California are able (with a lot of lab-based prodding*) to use arsenic in place of phosphates to build the backbone of their DNA molecules. An interesting link to DNA structure there, and news-worthy in that this species has been able to substitute one fundamental element of living organisms for another, usually more toxic, molecule.

As always, for the best possible write-up of this primary research in the news, head on over to NotExactlyRocketScience. You can also read the original release from NASA.

IB Biology curriculum links:

Helpfully, TED has put together a playlist of related talks to put the discovery, and the search for ET, in perspective. Here’s one from Penelope Boston:

Life on Mars? Let’s look in the caves.”

Live long and prosper.

*this clause is an edit to clarify.

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