Thursday, December 9, 2010

Redefining Life With a Single Microbe

Science and technology correlate greatly and when the discoveries of science advance technology that inevitably will effect media.

Recently, scientists have found a Arsenic eating bacterium that has ultimately redefined the way we look at the fundamental building blocks of life, and although it's still debatable as to how this will effect technology and media, this discovery has already altered many theories of life on earth, making me almost positive that in the future it will change technology and therefor media.

“The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction,” said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. “Until now a life form using arsenic as a building block was only theoretical, but now we know such life exists in Mono Lake.”

We’ve been taught our entire lives that the six most abundant elements of life are Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Sulfur and Phosphorus.

However, recently, scientists have been shaken up by one microbe, Arsenic. The same chemical used in weed killers and the toxic chemical found in contaminated groundwater.

NASA scientists have confirmed that they have found a bacterium that grows on a diet of arsenic in place of phosphorus (the backbone of DNA), opening up the possibility that organisms could exists elsewhere in the universe or even here on Earth.

MEDIUM(arsenic)- The bacterium, scraped from the bottom of Mono Lake in California and grown for months in a lab mixture containing arsenic (which shares many of same chemical properties as phosphorus), gradually swapped out atoms of phosphorus in its body for atoms of arsenic.

These results, if confirmed, would expand the notion of what life could be and where it could be.

It also lends weight to the idea that extraterrestrial life could have a fundamentally different chemical makeup from life on Earth.

Gerald Joyce, a chemist and molecular biologist at Sripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. said, “It’s a really nice story about adaptability of our life form. It gives you food for thought about what might be possible in another world.”

The results could impact a space mission to Mars and elsewhere looking for life using new experiments that are designed to eliminate the chemical elements and reactions that have been known to characterize life on earth.

The newly discovered bacterium, also known as GFAJ-1 doesn’t just tolerate arsenic- it can incorporate the poisonous stuff into its DNA and other vital molecules in place of the usual phosphorus, leading to a potential application in the medical field. GFAJ-1 could prospectively be used as an antioxidant to counteract the effects of toxic elements in the body.

GFAJ-1 could also be used to detoxify people with arsenic related diseases such as cancer of the kidney, skin, lung, and bladder.

It’s also been speculated that the use of arsenic in place of phosphorus on earth may date back to the origin of life, which may have occurred in a arsenic-rich hydrothermal vent (a fissure in the planet’s surface from which geothermally heated water issues) environments. This could be the microbe that supports the Iron-sulfur World Theory advanced by a German Chemist, Gunter Wachtershauser.

Something strange: Active hydrothermal vents are believed to exist on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, and ancient hydrothermal vents have been speculated to exist on Mars.

THE PEAK- (finding/GFAJ-1/finding a shadow biosphere/extraterrestrial life)

Also, the possibility of finding a shadow biosphere where life based on alternative chemicals live is much more feasible.

This is huge because it’s commonly assumed that life originated only once on Earth.

Shadow biosphere- a radiation of organisms on Earth with a different origin and evolutionary history than “normal life.

The confirmation of a shadow biosphere would be one of the biggest scientific discoveries of all time. It would suggest that life as we know it is not terribly special, and that it can take root easily. If life originated more than once on Earth, the chances that it took root elsewhere in the universe are increased.

Interface: Because we live in the biosphere with microbes, we don’t really have an organic physical barrier between humans and microorganisms. In that case, the only thing that prevents us from observing microbes are the fact that they are microscopic. Therefore, the microscope is the interface between human and the microbes, because it’s optical lens forms a boundary between two different phases.