Totally new form of arsenic-based life found by NASA here on Earth

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.”

The discovery of the arsenic-thriving strain of Gammaproteobacteria GFAJ-1 has profound implications. GFAJ-1 isn’t merely consuming arsenic — a remarkable find in itself — but arsenic has actually supplanted phosphorus as a fundamental ingredient in the biochemistry of the organism. This is unlike any other known form of life!

Not only is this reinforcement of the fact that life can exist in the most inhospitable of places and subsist on the most toxic of substances, but it is also definitive proof that alternative biochemistries are a reality and no longer mere conjecture or the stuff of science fiction.

Source: NASA via Gizmodo