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NASA Discovery Redefines Life As We Know It

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The Intel Hub

On Thursday December 2nd, NASA held a press conference regarding breakthroughs in the field of astrobiology. The findings were startling to say the least.

Felisa Wolf-Simon is a NASA astrobiology research fellow for the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California. Felisa Is part of a research team whose recent discoveries regarding an enigmatic little bacterium have at the very least redefined the term “habitable”.  The discovery surrounds an almost alien microbe systematically named GFAJ-1 whose very existence is an enigma.

The microbe GFAJ-1 raises eyebrows with its strange DNA which has effectively substituted phosphorus for arsenic. The phosphate groups bind and help to bend the DNA structure in a conventional cell nucleus. GFAJ-1 has somehow developed a method to use a known poisonous substance as a building block of DNA synthesis.

There are always differences when this type of substitution occurs; for instance, arsenic makes a far weaker bond than phosphates do. Just as key of a point is that arsenic is much more reactive at colder temperatures than exist on Earth.  This brings up another intriguing point; Saturn’s moon Titan is believed to have considerable amounts of arsenic and is sufficiently distant from the sun to be very cold by earth’s standards.

The recreation of those conditions may yet yield more information into the likelihood of these life generating conditions.

“This is an interesting curiosity, a novel discovery but not a paradigm-breaking one,” said New York University chemist Robert Shapiro, an authority on DNA and the origin of life who was not involved in the project. “It is a cousin of known living things that has some peculiar habits.”

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