UPDATE: As we discussed on a subsequent FastForward Radio, this story has been almost completely discredited. Sorry I got all excited over nothing.
Per Gizmodo, NASA is preparing to announce the discovery of an entirely new form of life:
Hours before their special news conference today, the cat is out of the bag: NASA has discovered a completely new life form that doesn’t share the biological building blocks of anything currently living in planet Earth. This changes everything.
At their conference today, NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe Simon will announce that they have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the bacteria uses arsenic. All life on Earth is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same.
But not this one. This one is completely different. We knew that there were bacteria that processed arsenic, but this bacteria–discovered in the poisonous Mono Lake, California–is actually made of arsenic. The phosphorus is absent from its DNA. The implications of this discovery are enormous to our understanding of life itself and the possibility of finding beings in other planets that don’t have to be like planet Earth.
Interesting conversation developing in the comments on the Gizmodo story — people trying to figure out how significant this is, some expressing disappointment that what’s being announced is not the discovery of alien life.
Two points I’d like to make on that.
1. This is huge. How can anyone not see tthat this is huge?
2. Of course it’s alien life. Whether it developed on this planet independently or it was deposited here by some meteor — this is alien life.
To borrow a phrase from our most recent podcast, this is at the very least a “proof of concept” for alien life.
If it’s from this planet, is there some path by which it could have evolved from common ancestors of the rest of the biosphere? If so, how could that have happened? Every other living thing on earth shares the same chemistry — but not these bacteria.
And if it’s NOT from this planet…
Let’s just say that raises some questios, too.