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Princeton Team Casts More Doubt On Arsenic DNA Claims 57

An anonymous reader writes "A team of researchers reports they can't reproduce the most important claim from 2010's controversial 'arsenic bacteria' paper — they find no arsenic in the bug's DNA. Meanwhile, other scientists are looking at different aspects of the bug and at arsenic in biology in general."
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Princeton Team Casts More Doubt On Arsenic DNA Claims

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  • Re:Science! (Score:5, Informative)

    by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @12:20PM (#38806405) Homepage

    The big problem with the original researchers was two fold - first, it was very preliminary. They had an unusual hypothesis (the bug, sorry, the bacterium) used arsenic in place of phosphate for the DNA 'backbone'. That's so unusual that it falls into the 'extraordinary evidence' category.

    But they didn't do that - they performed some basic microbiology and some even more basic biochemistry. There were hundreds of other potential experiments that they just ignored, even though they were pretty mainstream and could likely have gotten some grad student to at least to the preliminary ones. Pretty much anyone who has done DNA chemistry would look at the paper and ask why the team didn't bother to do any one of a number of other experiments to tie the arsenic into the DNA. (The original paper basically suggested that since there was arsenic in the bug and the bugs grew where others could not because of the high arsenic and low phosphate levels, the arsenic was being structurally incorporated into the DNA).

    THEN they hyped it to no end - made it sound like the Second Coming of DNA. That was their big error (hubris). It was weird enough in itself to get other people to look at it. That's always a problem with 'new' ideas since most labs are busy doing things they think they're supposed to be doing and don't necessarily have the time (or money) to go chase down other little issues.

    It seems like some PR idiot at NASA got wind of the research and tried to fly with it but it was really a stupid thing to do.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire