New studies nix report of arsenic-loving bacteria
FILE - This Nov. 15, 2004, file photo, shows tufa towers in Mono Lake near Lee Vining, Calif. The ancient towers, composed of calcium carbonate, were formed underwater when fresh water springs mixed with minerals in the lake water, and became visible when lake water receded over the past 60 years due to water diversion to Los Angeles. In 2010 scientists reported that some bacteria taken from Mono Lake could thrive on arsenic instead of the usual elements needed to sustain life. Now two new studies released Sunday, July 8, 2012, cast doubt on those results. The new research papers say the original conclusion is wrong and that the bacteria do indeed still need phosphorus. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)
By Malcolm Ritter AP Science Writer / July 8, 2012
NEW YORK—It was a provocative finding: strange bacteria in a California lake that thrived on something completely unexpected -- arsenic. What it suggested is that life, a very different kind of life, could possibly exist on some other planet.
The research, published by a leading scientific journal in 2010, led to overheated speculation about how life might exist elsewhere -- and quickly some dissent about the original finding.
On Sunday, that same 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.
NASA: Arsenic-life saga isn't done
Mark Wilson / Getty Images file
"Arsenic life" researcher Felisa Wolfe-Simon is flanked by Mary Voytek, director of NASA's Astrobiology Program, as well as chemist Steven Benner and astrobiologist Pamela Conrad during a NASA news conference on Dec. 2, 2010. Many of the claims made during that briefing have now been refuted in peer-reviewed research.
Nineteen months ago, NASA's experts on astrobiology hailed the initial report about arsenic-eating microbes as a "huge deal," but with the publication of two peer-reviewed papers that have refuted that report, the space agency now says the picture is "as yet incomplete."
The statement from Michael H. New, astrobiology discipline scientist at NASA Headquarters' Planetary Science Division, runs counter to the instant reaction that the "arsenic-life" controversy is finished. Since Sunday's online release of the two papers by the journal Science, a lot of folks have been talking about FAILs and nails (as in last nails in the coffin).
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