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NASA Science

California Lake's Arsenic Hints At a Shadow Biosphere 155

Posted by timothy
from the some-more-tea-dear? dept.
MichaelSmith writes "Scientists think that there might be arsenic-based life in Mono Lake, California. If it's shown to exist, such life could have evolved independently from our own, or it could have forked from ours at a very early stage."
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California Lake's Arsenic Hints At a Shadow Biosphere

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  • Hmm.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @12:14AM (#31378628) Journal
    Any organism with an Adenosine triarsenate based energy transport structure would be a serious badass.

    Arsenic and Phosphorus are quite similar, chemically; but I'm not nearly chemist enough to know if there are messy details preventing a suitably evolved biological system from substituting one for the other.

    Though, this being the internet, I'm obliged to note that Chuck Norris already does.
  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @12:19AM (#31378660)

    The highly intelligent life would find it bizarre that some organisms would actually thrive in an atmosphere with such a dangerous and corrosive gas like oxygen.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @12:30AM (#31378708)
    Why should this merit our attention? All she does is speculate about it. I just read the paper she wrote about it in January of last year, and that was almost pure speculation too.

    Tell you what: call us back when there is something to actually show us in this area. So far there is next to nothing but somebody's wild idea.

    In the meantime, I have a theory of my own: all dinosaurs were thin at one end, much much thicker in the middle, then thin again at the other end.

    Can I get a research grant please?
  • by wizardforce (1005805) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @12:51AM (#31378812) Journal

    Why should this merit our attention?

    For the same reason archea do: a fundamentally new form of life is of interest to us scientifically. Right now it's mostly speculation but that is why experiments are being done; to test hypotheses and support or discredit speculation on the subject. It is certainly worth looking into at the least.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @12:58AM (#31378848) Homepage Journal

    Well okay but from the article:

    But she hopes that her research may help scientists to reconsider what alien or “weird” life might look like: “It may prove that there are other possibilities that are beyond our imagination. It opens the door for us to think about biology in ways we have never thought. We are going to look for life on other planets and we only know to look for that which we know. This may help us to develop tools to look for something we have never seen.”

    I think this is a good point because we are starting to get spectra from planets around other stars. If we find a planet with composition and other parameters similar to our own we may assume that life as we know it exists there. But life on these planets may not be as we know it, and we need to understand how it might work.

    So yeah this is speculation, but I think it is worthwhile doing now.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @01:00AM (#31378860)
    You have completely missed my point (as did, no doubt, those who modded it "troll"):

    There is as yet -- even according to the recent paper she wrote -- virtually no evidence that a lifeform such as this exists. Sure, I am interested in new scientific findings. But this isn't a finding! It isn't news. It's just speculation. I submit that until there is some kind of evidence, her theory is worth just as much as the one I mentioned above. I.e., nothing.

    This article is not worthy of Slashdot. If I want to read speculations about unusual life forms, I can just go pick up a science fiction book at the local store, which in many cases will contain at least as much science as presented here.

    And I guess, in a nutshell, that is my point: We are shown no science here. And until there is some, this article was worth no more to me than the science fiction book I mentioned before. Less, in fact. Novels at least tend to be entertaining.
  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @01:05AM (#31378886)
    Perhaps it is a good point, but the very same point was made in books of fiction no less than 100 years ago. So I ask again: what merits its mention now?

    Despite the mods, my comment was not intended as trolling. There is nothing new here. This is an old idea she is re-hashing. Sure, it's (very) mildly interesting that she thinks she has an experimental way to verify the presence of something. But until there is some actual data, I'm simply not interested in rehashing such ancient ideas.
  • A bit of a stretch (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 06, 2010 @01:08AM (#31378902)

    There's zero evidence it's pure speculation. Also there's nothing saying a traditional life form can't adapt to arsenic. Unless it has a radically different biology it's likely just adapted to the environment. Other lifeforms here have adapted to use toxic agents. Silicone based life would be alien but simply using arsenic doesn't mean alien. One massive problem is the age of the lake. It would have had to have evolved in relatively recent times. It's kind of the Loch Ness Monster problem, it's just not that old. If it lacks DNA or has some other form than a double helix then they may have something but if it has traditional DNA odds are it's a local boy and just adapted.

  • by tpstigers (1075021) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @01:21AM (#31378968)
    Jane - Here's your problem - you mistook Slashdot for a place where you can engage in intelligent conversation. This is not the case. I was similarly modded into trolldom a short while ago for having the audacity to point to the fact that there is no direct evidence of evolution (I do, however, believe in evolution, just the same). Because Slashdot is the stomping grounds of adolescents (of any age), comments that APPEAR to be trollish are immediately assumed to be so. No one actually thinks about the actual words written before they mod them. My point here is that you have chosen the wrong venue for this discussion. Nobody here wants to hear you making sense. They just want you to say something funny (and by funny, I mean something that refers to at least one body part and/or geek pop culture reference). If you actually want to have an intelligent conversation, though, you came to the wrong place.
  • by Group XVII (1714286) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @01:29AM (#31378996) Journal
    It's well informed speculation. It seems like a methodical approach to developing a research agenda, and indeed we are told actual experiments are being conducted. I don't have any reason to doubt that. Probably more that a few people will find the topic fascinating. I'm sympathetic to your objection but it might be overstated.
  • Re:Meanwhile (Score:5, Insightful)

    by skine (1524819) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @02:18AM (#31379144)

    Is that with no life still a lifeform?

  • Surprised (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Neuticle (255200) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @02:56AM (#31379270) Homepage

    There is Arsenic in a lake, in California, that might support a unique form of life.

    To me, the most surprising thing is that California has not already declared it a disaster zone and spent $45 million trying to "clean" it up.

  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @02:56AM (#31379272)

    You a) never worked in a scientific field and b) have no clue where scientific breakthroughs come from. Here's a clue: every single scientific breakthrough started in the same way: this is strange... I wonder if.... The big "proofs", the big shiny toys, the Nobel prizes are all the culmination of a long process that started with someone, somewhere going down a road that is based on sheer speculation. Many fail, a few succeed, but it all starts the same.

    Yes, this is early. Yes, this is largely speculation. However, she does have a protocol, experiments that can produce data that can support her theory and a place where to start.

    I'm glad science isn't done by bores like you, because we'd never get anything new.

  • by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@nOsPAm.gmail.com> on Saturday March 06, 2010 @04:25AM (#31379484) Homepage Journal

    She's being a scientist of the most famous type - she's calling the play before hand. She's putting her reputation on the line, making a prediction, describing a means to test it, and then going to check it herself. She's arguing in the oldest of sense that her insight is right, and in doing so if she gets the job done and is actually right, she's going to be pretty darned famous.

    This is far removed from a scientist making a droll statement based on a computer model. She's saying, there is another radically different kind of life on earth and that she is going to show us how to find it. It's worlds beyond cool. She's trying to be like Babe Ruth calling the home run before he does it, and the world just loves that sort of a thing. In a world where people live around the edges and fritter away at them, she's trying to kick open an entirely door. She gets it, and in a very intuitive and natural way, what a scientist is supposed to be - a leader, because their education gives them intuition born out by test, that shows us how to see new things. Life in a dead lake, alien to our own, how much more of a prediction do you need?

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @07:24AM (#31379916)
    I said nothing against her science. I mentioned myself that she seemed to have a protocol. So what's your point? I would like to see the results (positive or negative) of her research, too. But like a number of others here, you have missed the point. Here idea is anything but new. It is ancient. What I want to read about is something new.

    Okay, so she has a protocol. Let's call that something new (it may be). So then why isn't the article about the protocol -- the new thing -- rather than about the old tired idea of life based on different chemistry?

    My point was that so far, there is nothing new to see here, folks. Move along now.
  • by kevinadi (191992) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:20PM (#31382470)

    I think you're missing the point of the article.

    It is NOT about poison-breathing animal found in science fiction. Its main point is the possibility that a SECOND BIOSPHERE, one that we are unfamiliar with and thus undiscovered, may exist on earth. IF we can detect the existence of the second biosphere, we have a greater chance of finding alien life, simply because all life-detection techniques that are being used today rely on the premise that ALL LIFE is oxygen-breathing, carbon-based like us.

    The impact of these speculations are tremendous. If a second biosphere exists, then a third may also exist, etc. This paper paves the way for us to seriously rethink our definition of life itself, and how to detect it. I think this is very exciting news, and most definitely newsworthy.

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI

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