A microbe has been discovered in a remote Californian lake that can survive without phosphorus, capable of substituting arsenic into that slot in its biochemistry instead. Previously environmental phosphorus has been considered necessary for carbon-based life forms to exist, a datum factored into the search for alien life in outer space, so this is a fairly large deal for the search for life on other planets.
Astrobiologists are excited about what else they might find, Paul Davies gets to feel smug about his ‘shadow biosphere’ theory holding up, and space geeks everywhere who got a little overexcited at the NASA alert that “an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life” was to be announced this week get to feel a little deflated – no alien lifeforms just yet, simply more candidate planets to examine.They’ll just have to unleash their thousands of SF novels hastily updated to include arsenic-metabolising lifeforms on the publishing houses now instead. Slush-piles of the world, beware!
P.S. Mono Lake is a gorgeous place.
Elsewhere: The Bad Astronomer, Ed Yong