Today NASA will hold a press conference revealing to the world the discovery of a form of life unlike any other on Earth. What twisted alien landscape gave birth to such a life form? Try California.
Dr Felisa Wolfe-Simon of the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, has been plumbing the depths Mono Lake for quite some time. The alkaline and hypersaline lake, located in California's Mono County, is one of the world's most naturally concentrated sources of arsenic. Arsenic is highly poisonous to most forms of multi-cellular life, but Wolfe-Simon believed that life could exist in the lake; just not life as we know it. She hoped to discover life so fundamentally different from that of any known life on Earth that it would prove the existence of a shadow biosphere, as well as a second genesis for life on Earth.
Speaking to the UK's Times Online earlier this year, Wolfe-Simon teased that her research had generated "some very exciting data," and that results would be published by the end of this year.
Apparently her search was successful, and NASA is ready to tell the world.
Phosphorus, along with hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and sulphur, make up the fundamental building blocks of life as we know it. Wolfe-Simon has discovered a bacteria that swaps out phosphorus with arsenic. The discovery that a life form can be comprised of something other than the six fundamental building blocks of life changes everything.
Biology textbooks will need to be rewritten. They Might Be Giants will have to re-record their song "Meet the Elements," though they left out phosphorus and sulfur the first time around anyway.
For Astrobiology, the study of life elsewhere in the universe, the impact of this discovery is tremendous. For years astrobiologists have been basing the potential for alien worlds to support life on the presence of the fundamental building blocks of life. Now that we know they aren't as fundamental as we first thought, the search will have to change.
Hopefully NASA will discuss how the search for extraterrestrial life will change on the heels of this news later today during the official press conference.
As for my original speculation that life was found on Saturn's moon Rhea? The jury isn't out yet. As today's news demonstrates, stranger things have happened.
New kind of life discovered [NOS (Dutch) via Gizmodo]