Two new studies of controversial research on a bacterium found in California’s arsenic-rich Mono Lake led the journal Science on Sunday to say that the 2010 paper it published on the microbe was incorrect in some of its major findings.
The original research, which also had been highlighted by NASA, reported that the bacterium could live in an environment with very high arsenic and very low phosphorus — one of the six elements known to be present in all living things. It consequently raised the possibility of life forms now or previously on Earth that break what had been accepted as a universal rule of biology.
But two new studies of the bacterium, GFAJ-1, reported that it could not grow without the presence of phosphorus. The papers also challenged the original finding that small amounts of arsenic compounds had replaced phosphorus compounds in some DNA, membranes and other biologically central parts of the organism.
“Contrary to an original report, the new research clearly shows that the bacterium, GFAJ-1, cannot substitute arsenic for phosphorus to survive,” the journal concluded in a formal statement.
“The new research shows that GFAJ-1 does not break the long-held rules of life, contrary to how [lead author Felisa] Wolfe-Simon had interpreted her group’s data.”
Nonetheless, Science wrote that it would look with interest at further research regarding the bacterium, which it called “an extraordinarily resistant organism that should be of interest for further study, particularly related to arsenic-tolerance mechanisms.”