Astrobiology: July 2012 Archives

Absence of Detectable Arsenate in DNA from Arsenate-Grown GFAJ-1 Cells, Science

GFAJ-1 Is an Arsenate-Resistant, Phosphate-Dependent Organism, Science

Discovery of an arsenic-friendly microbe refuted, USA Today

"The discovery of an arsenic-loving microbe that NASA said would rewrite biology textbooks and offered hope of life on other planets now looks like a case study in how science corrects its mistakes, researchers report. In findings released Sunday by the journal Science, two research teams take aim at the "arseniclife" bacteria. The microbe was announced by the journal in 2010 at a NASA news briefing as "the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic." The new findings show that was not the case."

Keith's 8 Jul note: Now that Science magazine has published two papers that refute NASA's big announcement several years ago, I wonder if NASA SMD PAO will reference these papers and admit that the claims made in earlier NASA statements were indeed wrong. I'm not holding my breath. It will also be interesting to see how Science magazine handles this issue since these two new papers in Science refute the original paper - which was also published in Science.

Keith's 9 Jul update: Still no response from NASA despite several requests. All they've said is that they are working on a response.

Keith's 9 Jul further update: After ignoring the first request from NASAWatch made first thing this morning, a second request this evening elicited this response - one that was sent earlier today to other media outlets from Michael H. New, astrobiology discipline scientist in NASA's Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters:

"NASA supports robust and continuous peer review of any scientific finding, especially discoveries with wide-ranging implications. It was expected that the 2010 Wolfe-Simon et al. Science paper would not be exempt from such standard scientific practices, and in fact, was anticipated to generate significant scientific attention given the surprising results in that paper. The two new papers published in Science on the micro-organism GFAJ-1 exemplify this process and provide important new insights. Though these new papers challenge some of the conclusions of the original paper, neither paper invalidates the 2010 observations of a remarkable micro-organism that can survive in a highly phosphate-poor and arsenic-rich environment toxic to many other micro-organisms. What has emerged from these three papers is an as yet incomplete picture of GFAJ-1 that clearly calls for additional research."

Funny how Dr. New won't address this earlier official NASA SMD PAO hype - often bordering on outlandish - that accompanied the original paper's publication. No doubt whatsoever with the findings was voiced - nor was there any hint that this paper was an "incomplete picture":

"Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components. "The definition of life has just expanded," said Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it." This finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth."

SETI Undeterred

Why I'm not giving up on the search for extraterrestrial life, Jill Tarter, Washington Post

"Our 50 years of searching is equivalent to scooping a single glass of water from the Earth's oceans to examine it for fish. It is an experiment that could work -- but if it fails, the correct conclusion is that there was inadequate sampling, not that the oceans are devoid of fish. Today, our searches are getting exponentially better. If we are looking for the right thing, it will take only a few decades to conduct a search that is comprehensive enough to be successful or to yield conclusive negative results."

Going Off Source: Time away with SETI in West Virginia (1997), SpaceRef

"As you approach the 140 foot dish, you are confronted with a weather-beaten behemoth. It is old and dirty - not unlike the bridge of one of those aircraft carriers often used as a nautical museum. The structure is designed not only to bear the weight of the immense dish, but also to withstand the strong winds which bear upon it. The word "monument" seems to be more fitting than "radio telescope"."



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