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NASA Earth Science

NASA Confirms Discovery of Organism With Phosphorus-Free DNA 380

Posted by timothy
from the well-it's-not-that-shaggy dept.
GNUALMAFUERTE writes "As we mentioned before, NASA's Department of Astrobiology had an important announcement to make today. It looks like Gizmodo was right. You can watch the presentation online right now. It looks like the bacteria in question uses arsenic as a phosphorus replacement in its DNA."
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NASA Confirms Discovery of Organism With Phosphorus-Free DNA

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  • Neat, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mikaelwbergene (1944966) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @02:56PM (#34421770)

    This is neat and clearly an important discovery and all, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit disappointed.

  • by RocketRabbit (830691) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @03:01PM (#34421900)

    NASA has really started to irritate me, with their latest few announcements. Rather than just issuing the data and having a little show about its implications in NASA TV, they first make an announcement that they will make an announcement, then for a few weeks there is rampant speculation (even though it's entirely probable that the data is ready) and finally they make their announcement in a media-circus style event.

    NASA should just make the damn announcements on their web site and on their TV channel, and let the science press (read: science tabloids) publish it as they will.

    If their current trend continues, pretty soon NASA will be announcing their announcement of their announcement of a press conference to announce their data. It's a waste of time and energy for everybody. I don't know about you, but I simply want my news, I don't want news that there will be news of note in the near future.

  • by SleazyRidr (1563649) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @03:02PM (#34421904)

    But it's still a carbon-based life-form right?

    (Not that I'm trying to diminish this, I think it's awesome. Just trying to get my facts straight.)

  • by arth1 (260657) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @03:07PM (#34422018) Homepage Journal

    NASA has really started to irritate me, with their latest few announcements. Rather than just issuing the data and having a little show about its implications in NASA TV, they first make an announcement that they will make an announcement, then for a few weeks there is rampant speculation (even though it's entirely probable that the data is ready) and finally they make their announcement in a media-circus style event.

    They probably hired a PR manager who used to work at Apple.

  • by jfengel (409917) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @03:08PM (#34422036) Homepage Journal

    That's correct. The carbons (and hydrogens and oxygens and nitrogens) are all where they should be. It's only the phosphorus that has been swapped out, for arsenic (right below it on the periodic table).

    In fact arsenic is toxic to you precisely because it takes the place of phosphorus so easily, without doing all of the jobs. Except for this little guy, who manages to work around the differences and survive nearly phosphorus-free.

  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Thursday December 02, 2010 @03:08PM (#34422044)
    The discovery of this microorganism that can use arsenic to build its cellular components may indicate that life can form in the absence of large amounts of available phosphorus, thus increasing the probability of finding life elsewhere in the universe. The find gives weight to the long-standing idea that life on other planets may have a radically different chemical makeup and may help in hunt for alien life. [wikipedia.org]

    The more we think we know about, the greater the unknown... -Neil Peart
  • by pi_is_after_you (857195) <[lnxpeng] [at] [gmail.com]> on Thursday December 02, 2010 @03:12PM (#34422118)
    That's what surprises me. If it's on the same column, it will have roughly the same properties and fit in the same reactions, but have vastly different reaction rates and affinities. So, does this thing replace phosphorous in DNA/RNA, ATP, and phospholipids? What about phosphorylation? /p.s. This is my first post to slashdot in approximately 4 years
  • by sam_handelman (519767) <skh2003@@@columbia...edu> on Thursday December 02, 2010 @03:15PM (#34422154) Homepage Journal
    Yes, it is still carbon-based.

      In fact, this appears to be a biochemically-interesting but seriously overhyped discovery.

      AFAICT, this organism still uses the same genetic code, the same nucleotide bases, the same ribose sugars, the same everything - only this organism performs a chemical modification of the phosphate backbone, substituting in arsenic. This is only moderately different from the chemical modifications that we make to our own DNA, RNA and proteins (methylation, for example.)

      That's not a particularly shocking substitution, from a chemical standpoint, and doesn't really say anything about the viability of an organism with an actually *alien* biochemistry. Now, if you look at the periodic table, you'll see that Arsenic is right below Phosphorous - so in a sense, this is a bit like the much more exciting Carbon -> Silicon change which might get you talking rocks on lava worlds breathing vaporized sand and other badass shit. But it's only a tiny bit similar to that, because the role that Phosphorous plays in biology is much different than that of Carbon. Carbon is what everything is made-out-of, Phosphorous is stuck onto the ends of things in order to provide high-energy bonds which can be exploited as an energy currency.

      I would bet that this organism does this as a defense against viruses - which, generally speaking, will not have arsenic-DNA or arsenic-RNA, and so would not be able to infect this organism.
  • by Amouth (879122) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @03:25PM (#34422312)

    because this confirms many unproven ideas that not all "life" is in the same form as we are a custom too - other than this.. all life that we knew before now on earth used the same base DNA structure..

    basically they have found life.. not as we know it.. and means that some of our methods for proving there isn't life some place might be flawed.

  • Re:Neat, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Obfuscant (592200) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @04:16PM (#34423038)
    You know, it gets a bit old and stale, and quite a bit tiring, for this gratuitous political-based bashing, here in a blog intended for "news that matters" for "nerds".

    It's depressing to come to a discussion about some new discovery in science just to find a long and boring thread with Bush (or Obama) bashing as the goal.

  • by somersault (912633) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @04:21PM (#34423104) Homepage Journal

    Similar things were thought about phosphate groups. Unfortunately, we were wrong.

    Unfortunate? I don't think it's unfortunate at all. It's things like this that make us question our "universal truths" that makes science so interesting and worthwhile.

    If we already knew everything there would be no need for science. We may "know a lot", but there's not a shortage of new things to learn.

    I don't necessarily think you're wrong about the carbon and hydrogen thing - I've only really studied a little physics and chemistry, no biology. But I do think you need to be more open to being wrong - and to see it as an opportunity to grow rather than as a slap in the face.

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