Study challenges existence of arsenic-based life

Remember this December 2010 New York Times headline: “Microbe Finds Arsenic Tasty; Redefines Life”?

Nature reports,

A strange bacterium found in California’s Mono Lake cannot replace the phosphorus in its DNA with arsenic, according to researchers who have been trying to reproduce the results of a controversial report published in Science in 20101.

A group of scientists, led by microbiologist Rosie Redfield at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, have posted data on Redfield’s blog that, she says, present a “clear refutation” of key findings from the paper.

“Their most striking claim was that arsenic had been incorporated into the backbone of DNA, and what we can say is that there is no arsenic in the DNA at all,” says Redfield.

But the authors of the Science paper are not retreating from their conclusions. “We are thrilled that our results are stimulating more experiments from the community as well as ourselves,” first author Felisa Wolfe-Simon, now at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, wrote in an e-mail to Nature. “We do not fully understand the key details of the website experiments and conditions. So we hope to see this work published in a peer-reviewed journal, as this is how science best proceeds”…

Read the entire Nature article.

Click for the December 2010 NYTimes report of the original study.

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