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NASA Science

NASA's 'Arsenic Microbe' Science Under Fire 152

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the arsenic-is-yummy dept.
radioweather writes "The cryptic press release NASA made last week that set the blogosphere afire with conjecture, which announced: 'NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.' may be a case of 'go fever' science pushed too quickly by press release. A scathing article in Slate.com lists some very prominent microbiologists who say the NASA-backed study is seriously flawed and that the finding may be based on something as simple as poor sample washing to remove phosphate contamination. One of the scientists, Shelley Copley of the University of Colorado said 'This paper should not have been published,' while another, John Roth of UC-Davis says: 'I suspect that NASA may be so desperate for a positive story that they didn't look for any serious advice from DNA or even microbiology people,' The experience reminded some of another press conference NASA held in 1996. Scientists unveiled a meteorite from Mars in which they said there were microscopic fossils. A number of critics condemned the report (also published in Science) for making claims it couldn't back up."
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NASA's 'Arsenic Microbe' Science Under Fire

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can't bear to follow them any more
    They used to be able to call press conferences for event like "Hey, we landed on the Moon!" "Hey, we put a telescope in orbit!" Then they started with "Hey, we landed on Mars! Only at a much steeper angle due to some conversion error..." arriving to the current "Hey, we don't have any budget for space stuff, but this paper here looks interesting!"...

    • by arkane1234 (457605) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:02AM (#34485748) Journal

      That tends to happen when we live in a time when warfare in multiple countries is worth more than expanding the knowledge.
      I mean, at least WW2 produced SOMETHING that altered science... the atomic era. What do we have... Remote-control planes? better guns?
      On top of it, mothballing existing projects... ugh
      Why does it seem like we're in high school and the asshat "cool" kids have taken office?

      • by marcosdumay (620877) <marcosdumay@nOSpAm.gmail.com> on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:16AM (#34485878) Homepage Journal

        "I mean, at least WW2 produced SOMETHING that altered science... the atomic era. What do we have... Remote-control planes? better guns?"

        The atomic era, and the computers era, let's not forget the latter. That happened because duing WWII the budget for science was huge, much bigger than during the previous times. And that happened because there was a real war going on, and everything implied that the party with the best science would win (as it did). Nowadays, the budget for science is being cut for letting more available to spend on war, on those countries that are participating on the current warmongering.

        "Why does it seem like we're in high school and the asshat "cool" kids have taken office?"

        Well, one thing is for sure, if you live in a democratic country, the ones in the office are all "cool" man.

        • You might be interested to know that DARPA is one of the leading forces in funding "green" technology, because increases in efficiency and power generation/transportation mean that supply lines are much less important, and losing one to enemy attacks is not going to destroy your combat ability. This has been one of the major problems in the current war, and has implications for enormous reduction in waste of energy in society. Just filling you in.

          The problem is "cool" went from being intelligent and capable

      • What do we have... Remote-control planes? better guns?

        Not quibbling over your basic point, but we will get some excellent prosthetics out of this war.

        It's at once sad and awesome.

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:51AM (#34486488)

      They've assembled a space telescope, landed several autonomous rovers on Mars that have exceeded their mission profile tenfold, have a squadron of probes out in the gas giants, another heading for Pluto, a next-generation space telescope the size of a bus is currently under construction. NASA's got a lot of problems but the selectivity of your examples is comical, and your argument bewildering. It's not like the rocket guys go on holiday when the astrobiologists decide to start working on something.

      • Lets all not get so excited. This is actually the empirical method in action. Its up to the NASA microbiologists to defend their findings, if the findings are bonafide they've got nothing to worry about. This is really nothing new in science, some one finds something new, the skeptics come in and tear it apart, the finder defends his findings, some other researcher duplicates the findings, then NOBEL PRIZE. Just give NASA some more time to either verify or become a laughing stock. Its up to them. Nothing t
    • by comp.sci (557773)
      You know, many "this paper looks interesting" discoveries had a larger impact on your life through medicine etc than landing on the moon. Don't discredit something with potentially huge implications just because you can't "see" it, groundbreaking discoveries can be on any scale.
    • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @12:30PM (#34488298)

      I hate how cynical and ignorant mods mod people like you up.

      First off, you are engaging in the fallacy of idealizing the past, a particular popular fallacy on slashdot. I find the more recent NASA accomplishments a lot more impressive than just lobbing meatbags onto the nearest satellite. Robotic rovers on mars, stardust mission, all manner of flybys and good space science, planetary probe hubble and webb in 2014, etc, Heck, we just had a god damn comet flyby last month.

      You want expensive moon missions? Convince your fellow voters to trim 100+ billion off our bloated military budget and to put into NASA. NASA gets a paltry 17 billion annually. We spend almost that much of corn subsidies. Your defense budget is 700 billion.

      Dont blame NASA because your democracy is broken and prefers to invest its money on war, defense, subsidies, and science last. Its amazing what NASA is doing with such small amounts of money.

      • by Ecuador (740021)

        I think GP's mention of "budget" means he was not blaming NASA itself.
        But indeed, much less than 10% off of the military budget would get NASA back to the manned space exploration track.

        • by arth1 (260657)

          Cutting the Congress mandated bureaucracy with which NASA is fettered would do even more, I think.

          Stop trying to run it as a business, as it isn't.
          Let the engineers buy the best O-rings without having to draft RFPs and attract bidders. The whole bureaucracy added by those who fear others spending "their" money not only costs more, but stifles any inventiveness, visions and daring, and leads to the most expensive mediocrity possible.

      • by Shadowlore (10860)

        I hate how cynical and ignorant mods mod people like you up.

        First off, you are engaging in the fallacy of idealizing the past, a particular popular fallacy on slashdot. I find the more recent NASA accomplishments a lot more impressive than just lobbing meatbags onto the nearest satellite. Robotic rovers on mars, stardust mission, all manner of flybys and good space science, planetary probe hubble and webb in 2014, etc, Heck, we just had a god damn comet flyby last month.

        So "just lobbing hunks of metal into orbit" > "just lobbing meatbags to the nearest satellite"?? Talk about a perversion of difficulty and complexity. Successfully placing people on other celestial bodies and bringing them back is far more difficult than some measly hunks of metal, rubber, and electronics. After putting people on the moon and bringing them back, lobbing satellites is well .. just lobbing satellites. It's like winning the Indy 500 and then spending the next several decades bragging about

        • Do some research on the shuttle program and then post again. NASA never received the requested budget for the shuttle program, hence the reason it sucked so bad. One fallout of lack of funding was that they used segmented booster rockets to save money, but that ended up being part of the reason for the Challenger disaster. I don't disagree that there may be waste in bureaucracies, but the DoD, and DHS are absolute textbook definitions of wasteful bureaucracies and they collectively get about 40 times the bu
    • Whether anyone likes them or not, the simple fact is that the paper is sound, and the study of the microbe that lives in the arsenic rich area that lacks phosphorus was discovered years ago, and has been under intense examination for quite some time now, to actually verify that the backbone has an arsenic base instead of a phosphorus one. Which is entirely within reason, as arsenic has incredibly similar properties to phosphorus, which is why it is so dangerous to phosphorus based life, our cells happily p

  • Papers and Questions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:55AM (#34485702) Journal
    I managed to find a (probably illegal) copy of this paper at pdfcast [pdfcast.org] and also the supplemental figures [sciencemag.org]. I must emphasize that I have absolutely no experience in professional biology let alone microbiology let alone geobiology. So the bulk of the refutation in the blog posting seems to focus on some procedures that the team took while the paper contains several different correlations supporting the hypothesis that arsenic is a major component in the microbe's DNA. So, for example:

    Initially, we measured traces of As by ICP-MS analysis of extracted nucleic acid and protein/metabolite fractions from +As/-P grown cells (11) (table S1). We then used high-resolution secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) to positively identify As in extracted, gel purified genomic DNA (Fig. 2A). These data showed that DNA from +As/-P cells had elevated As and low P relative to DNA from the -As/+P cells.

    So my question is basically what does it matter what they grew or washed the bacteria with when, in one of the many investigations, they found that gel purified genomic DNA had elevated levels of arsenic in them? Unless I'm misunderstanding what 'gel purified genomic DNA' means, I would assume that there's still several pieces of data in these experiments that point toward an organism that uses arsenic in place of phosphorous -- even if only somehow partially. Would this sort of spectrometry reveal any arsenic at all in my gel purified genomic DNA?

    • by Colonel Sponsz (768423) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:02AM (#34485752)

      So my question is basically what does it matter what they grew or washed the bacteria with when, in one of the many investigations, they found that gel purified genomic DNA had elevated levels of arsenic in them? Unless I'm misunderstanding what 'gel purified genomic DNA' means, I would assume that there's still several pieces of data in these experiments that point toward an organism that uses arsenic in place of phosphorous -- even if only somehow partially. Would this sort of spectrometry reveal any arsenic at all in my gel purified genomic DNA?

      From Rosie Redfield's critique [blogspot.com]:

      Could 400 atoms of arsenate per genome be due to carryover of the arsenate in the phenol-chloroform supernatant rather than to covalent incorporation of As in DNA? The Methods describes a standard ethanol precipitation with no washing (and no column purification which would have included washing), so I think some arsenate could easily have been carried over with the DNA, especially if it is not very soluble in 70% ethanol. Would this arsenate have left the DNA during the gel purification? Maybe not - the methods don't say that the DNA was purified away from the agarose gel matrix before being analyzed. This step is certainly standard, but if it was omitted then any contaminating arsenic might have been carried over into the elemental analysis.

      • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:32AM (#34486152) Journal
        From your own quote:

        Would this arsenate have left the DNA during the gel purification? Maybe not - the methods don't say that the DNA was purified away from the agarose gel matrix before being analyzed. This step is certainly standard, but if it was omitted then any contaminating arsenic might have been carried over into the elemental analysis.

        Seriously? Her criticisms rely on the assumption that they skipped a 'standard step' and didn't delve into it in their paper? Who's being the presumptuous one now?

        I think it's pretty common for field to omit standard procedure in their papers lest they become too long and verbose. Hopefully NASA and the team get a chance to respond to these comments although it's looking like a landslide right now.

        You know that there are going to be a ton of researchers that are going to want to reproduce these tests so it's only a matter of time.

        I did enjoy that blog post though:

        The authors never calculated whether the amount of growth they saw in the arsenate-only medium (2-3 x 10^7 cfu/ml) could be supported by the phosphate in this medium (or maybe they did but they didn't like the result).

        At times that blog reads more like politics than science. Yeah, it's an extraordinary claim, I guess we should just get used to this sort of reaction whenever something game changing is claimed.

        • Yeah, it's an extraordinary claim, I guess we should just get used to this sort of reaction whenever something game changing is claimed.

          The process has always worked this way. The only difference is that we now have the television, radio, email, and other means of near-instantaneous communication, which allows the drama to play out in public, rather than in academic journals.

        • Mod parent up - most relevant post in this discussion.

        • "I guess we should just get used to this sort of reaction whenever something game changing is claimed."

          The critisims by themselves appear valid and worthy of a reply, the accusations of fraud are contemptuos and make the whole blog unworthy of a reply. If we ever get used to scientists claiming fraud without a shread of evidence then politics will have defeated our one genuinely useful philosophy.
        • by Rich0 (548339)

          My feeling when I heard the announcement is that this was an AWFULLY big claim to make based on indirect evidence like what they had.

          The paper itself was probably fine. The big issue was how it was blown up.

          Confirmation by independent methodology would only make sense here. Some controls would also make sense - take some ordinary bacteria with ordinary DNA, mix them up with arsenate solutions like what were used, and then purify the DNA in the same way and show that the arsenate ISN'T carried over.

          You cou

    • by robbyjo (315601)

      Actually, an easy fix would be getting the sample from the said lake OR from the scientists themselves, and then redo the experiment to see whether they can reproduce the result. Why whining, right?

      • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @11:10AM (#34486806)

        then redo the experiment to see whether they can reproduce the result.

        See:

        So the bulk of the refutation in the blog posting seems to focus on some procedures

        "I keep doing the wrong thing, and getting the wrong result, WTF?"

        Very much like the tired old meme that won't die of aluminum found in the brains of Alzheimers patients. Every time they sliced specimens in an aluminum microtome, they detected aluminum in the specimens.

        • by robbyjo (315601)

          Why can't these scientists just take the samples and redo the experiments *the right way* (and defend it) to see whether it is indeed a methodological error? If it is a methodological error, the result will go away. Why whining?

    • It's kind of odd that you had to dig up such an offhand copy of that paper. Usually NASA's scientific papers are freely available through their website, being a publicly funded organization and all that. I wonder if you could get a copy of the paper by e-mailing NASA's astrobiology department.
      • by jank1887 (815982)

        It should be, if the authors are all US Federal Government employees, and not contractors. Works of the US government are not subject to copyright in the United States. That said, Science's particular reproduction of a report on government work may be covered by certain aspects of copyright. it's a bit tricky. But yes, you should be able to get a copy of the the body of the report with a proper request.

    • by mapkinase (958129)

      As I wrote on Friday in another thread:

      http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1893474&cid=34431566 [slashdot.org]

      I am not sure where this MOST come from. I am looking right now at Figure S2 (mass spec data, DNA contents only) from the suppl material (page 8) and I see that that the minimal ration of 31P/75AS in samples is 0.002/3.2E-05=60-70

      That means that there are at least 60-70 times more 31P than 75AS in the most exciting samples, according to nanosims

      Table S1 (page 10-11), intracellular content, granted, gives adva

  • by Rooked_One (591287) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:57AM (#34485706) Journal
    ... which are very distinguishable down to the DNA level - if of course of you have that kind of microscope - which NASA does...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Any major or minor scientific discovery has to be subject to scrutiny in order for it to be proven. If it folds at the first issue or claimed to be above scrutiny it would be called a religion.

  • by olsmeister (1488789) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:01AM (#34485742)
    It's a requirement for getting more funding and a bigger budget. With the current emphasis on cutting costs and everyone's budget under the microscope, they are trying to generate as much interest as possible in their work.
    • It's a requirement for getting more funding and a bigger budget. With the current emphasis on cutting costs and everyone's budget under the microscope, they are trying to generate as much interest as possible in their work.

      And if it turns out that this is another sensationalistic claim... like the mud they claimed were microbes from Mars... isn't that going to peg them as fraudsters? If this discovery is indeed invalid because of mistakes made... how many times can they do this before the public just goes "Oh look, NASA 'found' something again. Alert the National Enquirer". If their critics in the research community are right, then they'd have been better served by not jumping the gun with this announcement.

    • This is a huge problem. The quest for PR and public interest has almost eclipsed the quest for knowledge.

      NASA's job is not to seek funding, it's to take the funding they are given and do aeronautic and space work with it. This sort of research is draining money away from the actual aerospace mission that NASA has been given.

      We have the National Science Foundation to fund this kind of thing. Next thing you will be telling me is that the FDA should be researching deer antlers.

  • by tetrahedrassface (675645) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:03AM (#34485754) Journal

    The paper made it through peer review. It was published by Nature, and while the peer review process and closed nature of Nature Publishing may not be perfect the paper was in fact reviewed. However NASA is in go-mode, and they desperately want to find life out there. Maybe when they really get serious about finding life they will send a probe down to Europa and sniff around. No telling what they will find.

    Also, arguments in the scientific community are nothing new, and a lot controversy occurs because somebodies research infringes on someone else's predetermined view of things. We still don't know about dark matter very well, or even it exists, we still don't know so many things about almost everything! Text books continue to be updated every year, and the current consensus on big things like String Theory, or whatever are laid down to us as authoritative law, yet rescinded just as quickly when we learn something new. This reminds me of the global warming debate a little bit.

    Scientists sure like to argue a lot. :)

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:12AM (#34485838)

      Also, arguments in the scientific community are nothing new, and a lot controversy occurs because somebodies research infringes on someone else's predetermined view of things.

      It's telling in this case that many of the sceptical responses are coming from the researchers who pioneered arsenic-based biochemistry.

      • Also, arguments in the scientific community are nothing new, and a lot controversy occurs because somebodies research infringes on someone else's predetermined view of things.

        It's telling in this case that many of the sceptical responses are coming from the researchers who pioneered arsenic-based biochemistry.

        I'm not sure what you implying. The people who have done work in the field are the people most likely to read and understand the paper. They're the most qualified to give any response at all.

        I'm an EE, and I constantly encounter papers I don't fully understand in electrical engineering. There are tons of papers in electrical engineering coming out that I never even bother to read. However, when the papers are in my area of research, I can grasp the details quickly and sometimes recognize mistakes (becau

        • by Sockatume (732728)

          I'm saying that the criticism has nothing to do with damaging "someone else's predetermined view of things". In fact the most vocal critics are the people who have the most to gain from this research being correct.

          • I'm saying that the criticism has nothing to do with damaging "someone else's predetermined view of things". In fact the most vocal critics are the people who have the most to gain from this research being correct.

            Ah, sorry about that. I misunderstood what you were saying. I agree completely.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Maybe when they really get serious about finding life they will send a probe down to Europa and sniff around.

      The NASA guys probably got the message "All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there."

    • Uh, you do realize that it was published in Science. I can tell that you've really done your due diligence on this subject before proffering your opinion. Might even have skimmed TFA.
  • Let's go to one of Saturn's or Mars' moons and test the soil there, why don't we NASA?
  • by egyptiankarim (765774) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:09AM (#34485800) Homepage
    Wait, wait, wait. The whole point of publication is to open up your results so that other scientists can poke holes in it and the science can be redone and improved upon. Isn't it kind of a bogus statement say something like "this paper shouldn't have been published"? And with outrage, no less. Could the science really have been that bad and still be approved for publication to begin with? It must have been subject to at least a bit of peer review prior to its release. How come no one was outraged about the guy who reinvented integration (http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/12/06/0416250/Medical-Researcher-Rediscovers-Integration)?!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's more like this shouldn't have been published in Science because of the standard of evidence doesn't match the extraordinary claims. More to do with reputation and expectation of standards. Gold-standard reviewed journals just seem like a distant memory now.

    • by emt377 (610337) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:36AM (#34486236)

      Wait, wait, wait. The whole point of publication is to open up your results so that other scientists can poke holes in it and the science can be redone and improved upon. Isn't it kind of a bogus statement say something like "this paper shouldn't have been published"? And with outrage, no less. Could the science really have been that bad and still be approved for publication to begin with? It must have been subject to at least a bit of peer review prior to its release. How come no one was outraged about the guy who reinvented integration (http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/12/06/0416250/Medical-Researcher-Rediscovers-Integration)?!

      The paper spurs justified criticism of methodology; that's perfectly reasonable. What ruffles people's feathers is using the resources of NASA to peddle their results in highly hyped press conferences. The lesson here is that if you're going to do that your research better be airtight. And that would include correlating the research by others using different methods. What they have in no way correlates with the presentation, which makes them look like used car salesmen.

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        Agreed - this is interesting stuff, but this isn't airtight evidence of life on titan or something like that.

        Most people who discover stuff like this just publish it in the literature and then let the NYT science page or whatever pick it up.

        I mean really - if you have a major article in Science it isn't like you need to hype it up a whole lot more for it to get attention.

        On the other hand, they could very well have more controls/etc - journals like Science like to keep things really brief due to the demand

  • I think a better purpose for NASA would be to concentrate on making factories which produce spaceship factories.

    What ever did happen to the Virgin funded project to get the (rich only for now) public into space?
  • by sjs132 (631745) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:14AM (#34485856) Homepage Journal

    The real reason they are underfire:

    http://www.xkcd.com/829/ [xkcd.com]

    Laugh,
    Love,
    Peaceful day.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:21AM (#34485934)

    I refuse to believe that NASA would have a press conference for mere PR and self-promotional purposes. That's *completely* out of character.

  • NASAs ultimate solution is offcourse to become the first space bank! You'll be bailed out whenever you need it, no need to lie to the public nobody does that!
  • by edremy (36408) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:27AM (#34486052) Journal
    I'm teaching a course in the scientific method and controversial theories this semester, and this is such a perfect example of how science is *supposed* to work. This isn't cold fusion- the original paper passed peer review and was published in Science, not exactly a bottom-feeder journal. NASA is making the organism itself available to anyone who wants it- run your own tests and see if the science stands up.

    If it does- awesome. Really neat microbiology

    If it doesn't- well an awful lot of published papers turn out to wrong. Acknowledge the mistake and move on.

    I see comments about how peer review failed. I'm not a microbiologist so I can't judge if there were any really obvious errors, but peer review isn't supposed to verify claims in papers- it's a sanity check to make sure that nothing blatantly wrong gets through. Given that Science is the 2nd highest impact journal out there I'm sure they have competent peer reviewers available. Is it possible they screwed up? Sure, but it's not a catastrophe: we're seeing science self-correct in exactly the way it's supposed to.

    • by ishobo (160209)

      I'm teaching a course in the scientific method and controversial theories this semester, and this is such a perfect example of how science is *supposed* to work. This isn't cold fusion...

      Cold fusion was peer reviewed too.

      • Cold fusion was peer reviewed too.

        Wrong. Fleischmann and Pons made their initial announcement at a press conference, essentially stepping outside the normal channels of scientific communication. This contributed significantly to the level of criticism and derision they received as more and more researchers tried (unsuccessfully) to reproduce their results.

        • by edremy (36408)
          It's actually even worse than that- P&F did the press conference thing (cutting out Jones' work as well,despite some tentative agreements between BYU and Utah) and the paper that went into J. Eletroanal. Chem. was not peer reviewed at all- the editor accepted it without anything since P&F were well known to him and major publishers in the journal. Nature wasn't going to be willing to publish on the schedule P&F wanted.
        • by ishobo (160209)

          I see, the publications in Nature and Electroanalytical Chemistry were a figment of everbody's imagination? I would stop teaching that course if you are this ignorant.

  • "finding may be based on something a simple as poor sample washing to remove phosphate contamination."

    Excuse me? "may be". Well lots of things "may be" but if you can't prove that it was you should keep your mouth shut until you can prove that it "is" instead of "may be"

    • There is no "is" in science. Everything is in terms of "maybes." This reflects the epistemological position that nothing in science is certain, but that things can be more or less likely based upon the preponderance of evidence. In this case, the samples may not have been properly washed (the original paper leaves out those details), and if the samples were not properly washed, there is an obvious source of contamination. The correct response is not to attacked Dr. Redfield for disagreeing with the pape
      • by Spykk (823586)

        There is no "is" in science

        Only the dark scientists deal in absolutes.

        • by lennier (44736)

          Only the dark scientists deal in absolutes.

          Search your anecdotes. You know this to be true.

          The department head has foreseen this. We can destroy him.

          Together we can rule this faculty as thesis advisor and undergrad!

  • by milkmage (795746) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @11:42AM (#34487444)

    microbes (hell, even complex multi cellular organisms) THRIVE under incredibly hostile conditions right here on this planet. but it's "impossible" organisms eat arsenic because it's "poison"

    keep in mind all this shit happens at the bottom of the ocean where the pressure is thousands of PSI.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrothermal_vent [wikipedia.org] .....
    Although life is very sparse at these depths, black smokers are the center of entire ecosystems. Sunlight is nonexistent, so many organisms — such as archaea and extremophiles — convert the heat, methane, and sulfur compounds provided by black smokers into energy through a process called chemosynthesis. .....
    A species of phototrophic bacterium has been found living near a black smoker off the coast of Mexico at a depth of 2,500 m (8,200 ft). No sunlight penetrates that far into the waters. Instead, the bacteria, part of the Chlorobiaceae family, use the faint glow from the black smoker for photosynthesis. This is the first organism discovered in nature to exclusively use a light other than sunlight for photosynthesis. .....
    Other examples of the unique fauna who inhabit this ecosystem are scaly-foot gastropod Crysomallon squamiferum, a species of snail with a foot reinforced by scales made of iron and organic materials, and the Pompeii Worm Alvinella pompejana, which is capable of withstanding temperatures up to 80C (176F).

    can you imagine the fish tank you'd need to sustain this life on the surface!? the surface of Mars has to be (marginally) more hospitable than this but "Compared to the surrounding sea floor, however, hydrothermal vent zones have a density of organisms 10,000 to 100,000 times greater."

    • microbes (hell, even complex multi cellular organisms) THRIVE under incredibly hostile conditions right here on this planet. but it's "impossible" organisms eat arsenic because it's "poison"

      You are missing the point. No one has said that life in an arsenic-rich environment is impossible. No one said that life could not exist without phosphorus. What the critics are saying is that the paper published in Science does not adequately demonstrate that life the bacteria under study can use arsenic instead of p

    • scaly-foot gastropod Crysomallon squamiferum, a species of snail with a foot reinforced by scales made of iron and organic materials

      "A Dire Snail appears! Run away Y/N?"

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      The harshness of the environment isn't due to the presence of arsenic, but the lack of phosphorus. That's what's really interesting.

  • the finding may be based on something as simple as poor sample washing to remove phosphate contamination.

    This conflates two problems mentioned in the article: possible poor washing of arsenic off the DNA, since it apparently likes to glom onto things, and trace amounts of phosphorus in the salts they fed the bacteria that were trying to starve of phosphorus.

  • ...in this great blog [corante.com]. Also check out the rest of the posts, if you're a chemist you'll definitely will enjoy the "stuff I won't work with" series.

  • "go fever"? So this arsenic-metabolising bug is the O-ring of biology?

  • As a professional (PhD molecular biology) scientist, I think the starting point is this:
    If true, this is the biggest discovery in biology since watson crick, because it really redefines fundamentals of chemistry for life.
    This is different from life growing under what seems to us harsh conditions (very acid [pH 1], high temp(boiling water)) etc
    Replacing phosphorus with Arsenic is really fundamental, because phosphorus is found in so many different molecules in the cell: in DNA, RNA, tRNA, ATP, phospho lip
  • Coincidentally, there was an episode on a few days ago discussing the possibility of arsenic-based bacteria. I'm guessing that the episode wasn't churned out in 2 days, so there's probably a decent amount of background to this research.

  • that facr is most people in the blogosphere ahve no idea how press release are done, not do they know how information on science is released.

    The fact is most people in the blogosphere have no idea how press releases are done, not do they know how information on science is released.

    If it was something big, NASA wouldn't have announced they where going to do it. This applies to ANY large entity.
    If it was about getting a signal from another life form, they would have confirmed their data, and then just made t

    • by geekoid (135745)

      I cut that whole trying out, put it into a document to spell check, and pasted it back in. /. post what I cut out. Not out of the preview, og no. Just after the submit.

      Half the time the spell check doesn't work, need a special work around to past into the text box.

      Come on /. fix the thing already.

  • Here's a summary [www.imao.us] of the press conference, in case you missed it.

Every nonzero finite dimensional inner product space has an orthonormal basis. It makes sense, when you don't think about it.

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