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Arsenic-Friendly Microbe Now Seems Unlikely 122

Posted by timothy
from the but-it-sure-sounded-cool-at-the-time dept.
The Associated Press (as carried by the Washington Post) reports that the controversial report of arsenic-based life-forms in a California lake (much hyped by NASA) look suddenly less controversial, but in a way that will disappoint those who hoped that such an unexpected thing had actually been found on earth. Instead, the journal Science "released two papers that rip apart the original research. They 'clearly show' that the bacteria can't use arsenic as the researchers claimed, said an accompanying statement from the journal." USA Today's version of the story points out that the claim, and subsequent considered rejection of that claim as unsupportable, "looks like a case study in how science corrects its mistakes."
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Arsenic-Friendly Microbe Now Seems Unlikely

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  • Oh well... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday July 09, 2012 @01:19AM (#40588745) Journal
    It's nice to see that the matter was cleared up relatively quickly(the media circus wasn't pretty; but it could have been worse).

    On the minus side, arsenic-crazed bacteria are a rather cool theory to have dashed against the rocks of callous empiricism. Hopefully some sort of selective breeding experiment can succeed where nature has failed, and give us an organism that substitutes some or all of its phosphorus for arsenic...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 09, 2012 @04:10AM (#40589323)

    I don't buy in to the "more humans = bad" paradigm. It's well known that the highest birth rates are in impoverished countries that have high infant mortality. Humans are instinctively driven to grow population levels so the unintended consequence to 3rd world living conditions is an increased growth rate relative to 1st world countries. John the middle class only-child has n-resources required in his upbringing, while if 6 children die before John VII the Sub-Saharan African child survives, he has N*7 resources necessary to bring him to adulthood.

    If the middle class child consumes some multiple of N beyond the requirement, it is not a fundamental flaw in human existence, but an opportunity created by the market inefficiency of 3rd world child-rearing. John the middle class child will likely contribute significantly more to society in the form of taxes than it cost to raise him making him financially exothermic. Meanwhile, based on the same idea of human capital, John the African child is likely endothermic based on the broken window fallacy type destruction resulting from the spread of disease caused by his & his 6 predecessors infected blood.

    Bottom line, if the average human consumed more than they produced, we would all be starving. The majority of humanity may be useless wastes of flesh, but the ones who get off their ass and earn even a modest paycheck contribute a surprising amount to government revenues, even if only by proxy through the taxation of the goods they purchase and the associated incomes that went in to their production.

    A trivial investment in education and basic preventative medicine yields a stunningly high ROI from tax revenues on the economic activity created. Malaria medication and mosquito netting are literally worth their weight in gold, even if the dividends are hard to track or quantify.

    My point is, when everyone shows up to the government coffers with their pet project's hand out, including my malaria tin cup, you quickly find tax revenues allocated to more pet projects than can be sustained, and quite like a credit addicted american consumer, no one wants to pay for yesterday's shiny pet project financed with easy tomorrow dollars today. Democracy is not a practical way of allocating resources which is a job best left to markets and philanthropy. Not the kind with other people's money.

  • by TheGoodNamesWereGone (1844118) on Monday July 09, 2012 @05:47AM (#40589695)
    As I understand it, the controversy really heated up when this researcher started shouting 'SEXISM!' at the first sign of peer criticism. As Sagan said (paraphrased) "If you're gonna make an extraordinary claim, be prepared to back it up with extraordinary proof!" Not assertions that those mean old boys are picking on you because you're a girl.
  • by gr8_phk (621180) on Monday July 09, 2012 @08:28AM (#40590687)

    They 'clearly show' that the bacteria can’t use arsenic as the researchers claimed, said an accompanying statement from the journal.

    Sounds like these folks made the same error as the original author. Let us not speculate on weather the arsenic has been assimilated into critical molecules inside the organism. Let them instead determine the chemical composition of the actual molecules in the organism and say definitively what is going on. I for one took the original research as somewhat speculative since they had not done this, and hence a call to others to do proper analysis. So now the others have apparently done more incomplete research. I may be misinterpreting that "can't use arsenic" is not the same as "does not use arsenic". It's hard to tell without reading the original works.

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