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Thursday, December 2, 2010

NASA Finds New Life (Updated with Pictures)


NASA Finds New Life (Updated with Pictures)
Hours before their special news conference today, the cat is out of the bag: NASA has discovered a completely new life form that doesn't share the biological building blocks of anything currently living in planet Earth. This changes everything. Updated.

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 sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same.

NASA Finds New Life (Updated with Pictures) 
The new life forms up close, at five micrometers.

But not this one. This one is completely different. We knew that there were microorganisms that processed arsenic, but this bacteria—discovered in the poisonous Mono Lake, California—is actually made of arsenic, with phosphorus absent from its DNA. 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.

NASA Finds New Life (Updated with Pictures) 
Even closer, showing their internal structure.
No details have been disclosed about the origin or nature of this new life form. We will know more today at 2pm EST but, while this life hasn't been found in another planet, this discovery does indeed change everything we know about biology. I don't know about you but I've not been so excited about a bacteria since my STD tests came back clean. And that's without counting yesterday's announcement on the discovery of a massive number of red dwarf stars, which may harbor a trillion Earths, dramatically increasing our chances of finding extraterrestrial life. [NOS—In Dutch]
Mono Lake photography by Sathish J — Creative Commons