June 14 2024


An archive of Star Trek News

It’s Life, Jim, But Not As We Know It

2 min read

A new bacteria discovered in Mono Lake in California is found to be unlike any other organism on the planet.

The bacteria, named GFAJ-1, has only trace elements of phosphorus, one of the so-called building blocks of life, instead, GFAJ-1 uses arsenic to live and arsenic is “embedded into their DNA, RNA and other basic underpinnings.”

“This is a phenomenal finding,” said Mary Voytek, director of NASA’s Astrobiology Program. “We are talking about taking the fundamental building blocks of life and replacing one of them with an unusual, perhaps not unpredicted, but another compound. In our mind this is the equivalent, and some of us remember seeing the original Star Trek episodes, of Devil in the Dark and the Horta. This in our mind is the equivalent of finding that Horta which is a silicon based life, substituting carbon, which is what we think all life forms are made of, with silica. Now we are talking about an organism that we think we are talking about an organism that, if not replacing all of it, appears to be using another fundamental component of life. The story is not entirely carbon. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and the other essential elements–it is replacing arsenic for phosphorus. This is a huge deal.”

As a result of the find, NASA will broaden its scope when looking for life off-planet, according to science fiction writer Robert Sawyer. NASA will start looking for arsenic-based life as well as life based on other chemicals, and in places such as Titan, which has traces of arsenic. “It’s a huge breakthrough,” said Sawyer. “It changes the probabilities for their being life on other planets,” Sawyer told FoxNews.com. “If there is more than one recipe that makes life, then there are chances of rolling the dice in a chemical soup of all over the universe, and the chances of that chemical soup giving rise to life is much larger.”

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