When something cool is announced, there will always be the ones who automatically does their best to put down the discovery. So when the new very cool arsenic bacteria got announced yesterday it didnt take long before they started to complain. I basically think that most of this has nothing to do with them being right or more sceptical than the rest of us poor sheep. I think it has more to do with them being disapointed that it wasnt the discovery they had expected. Not life on Titan/Rhea. No green men from Mars. And in some cases I also think it has to to with ignorance on the topic and pure envy. We call the latter thing Jantelag in Sweden.
And there is also the really nutty people out there who sees this in a conspiratory manner. Ive already seen a lot of claims on NASA trying to raise their funds. And the real nutty cases about this being part of NASAs big announcement. Where they slowly will introduce humanity to the hidden fact of aliens among us… *sigh*
But on a less nutty perspective its still sad. It has developed in to a fight on semantics today. Pharyngula tries to make this in to a unimportant discovery where its not at all a bacteria made of arsenic.
“It’s an extremophile bacterium that can be coaxed into substiting arsenic for phosphorus in some of its basic biochemistry. It’s perfectly reasonable and interesting work in its own right, but it’s not radical, it’s not particularly surprising, and it’s especially not extraterrestrial. It’s the kind of thing that will get a sentence or three in biochemistry textbooks in the future.”
There is NO bacteria or lifeform on this planet that can incoporate arsenic in to its structure (not what I know of at least). Pharyngulua should read up on the matter if he doesn’t understand why this is important then. There is a lot of bacteria that can control and/or respire with and in an arsenic rich environment. Something COMPLETLY different. And there is a lot of microbes than can control and use several types of elements. But they don’t change their DNA.
And his headline… “its not an arsenic-based life form“.
Eh, yes it actually is. It doesn’t become less of that just because it prefers the “normal” conditions with phosphorus. The second a bacterial generation adapts and change its building blocks to include arsenic – it’s def. made of arsenic. Not completely of course. And no, its not a question of poisonous bacteria. I was told that the public could interpret it so, but the publics ignorance can hardly be an argument against this.
This IS big news. Way beyond any normal extremophile/biomineralization process and discovery. It shows us that life can exist and adapt to extremely more “alien” conditions than we previously thought. No its not a discovery of actual life on a different planet, but it is the confirmation of endless new possibilities in the search for life. Now we can start for real to look beyond the ridiculus “habitable zone”. And also learn new thing on the evolution of life on earth. This opens new doors for science.
The only real problem with this discovery (that I have seen) is that there seem to be no actual study of the DNA of the bacteria. That the results more are based on the absence and presence of arsenic and phosphorus in weight%.
Well. Its good to be skeptical. But you can actually go too far on that. And you will join ranks with the conspiracy nutcases whether you like it or not.
Update: It seems to be confirmed that it is DNA and nothing else. http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2010/12/bacteria-can-integrate-arsenic-into-its-dna-and-proteins.ars
(BTW, sorry for the lack of posts lately. Im not sure when it will pick up again. Got so much on my mind right now and not that much inspiration when it comes to writing posts. But fear not, the blog isnt dead)