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Studies refute arsenic bug claim

The discovery of a bacterium that could substitute phosphorus for arsenic to survive is refuted by new research.
Six elements are considered essential for life - oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur - so the announcement in 2010 implied one of biology's golden rules had been broken.
The findings provoked an immediate backlash and now two new scientific papers suggest the bacterium needs phosphorus to grow after all.
The studies appear in Science journal.

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NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical

NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.
Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components.

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NASA finds 'weird life' on Earth

Lurking in the depths of a California lake, researchers found a bacteria that can thrive on arsenic, an explosive discovery that could expand the search for other life on Earth and beyond.
The NASA-funded study released Thursday redefines what science considers the necessary elements for life, currently viewed as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and sulphur.
Not only does the bacteria survive on arsenic, it also grows by incorporating the element into its DNA and cell membranes.

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At their conference today, NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe Simon will announce that they have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the bacteria uses arsenic. All life on Earth is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same.
But not this one. This one is completely different. Discovered in the poisonous Mono Lake, California, this bacteria is made of arsenic, something that was thought to be completely impossible. The implications of this discovery are enormous to our understanding of life itself and the possibility of finding beings in other planets that don't have to be like planet Earth.

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Could the Mono Lake arsenic prove there is a shadow biosphere?

Mono Lake has a bizarre, extraterrestrial beauty. Just east of Yosemite National Park in California, the ancient lake covers about 65 square miles. Above its surface rise the twisted shapes of tufa, formed when freshwater springs bubble up through the alkaline waters.
Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a geobiologist, is interested in the lake not for its scenery but because it may be harbouring alien life forms, or "weird life". Mono Lake, a basin with no outlet, has built up over many millennia one of the highest natural concentrations of arsenic on Earth. Dr Wolfe-Simon is investigating whether, in the mud around the lake or in the water, there exist microbes whose biological make-up is so fundamentally different from that of any known life on Earth that it may provide proof of a shadow biosphere, a second genesis for life on this planet.

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Searching for Alien Life, on Earth

In her work at Mono Lake, Wolfe-Simon is particularly interested in micro-organisms that utilise arsenic in novel ways. To you and me, arsenic is a poison. Here's why: our bodies, like all other known life forms on Earth, depend on phosphorus; it's an essential component of both DNA and ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate), the primary energy currency of life. Chemically, arsenic is similar in many ways to phosphorus, so it's easy for arsenic to sneak in to our cells and get incorporated into our biological structures without being detected. Once it's there, however, it doesn't behave like phosphorus. It's like a bull in a china shop; it's too energetic; it wreaks destruction. But for some microbes, it's a different story: arsenic is their friend.

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Latitude: 3759'57.99"N, Longitude: 119 1'56.13"W

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