NASA announced a discovery that changed the framework for life as we know it on Dec. 2.
New research shows not all life requires phosphorus as a fundamental building block in the cellular makeup of organisms. A microbe, discovered in arsenic-laced Mono Lake in California, has been shown to be able to replace phosphorous with arsenic, which is traditionally considered toxic. Life typically requires oxygen, carbon, phosphorus, sulfur, hydrogen and nitrogen. Arsenic replaced phosphorus in this microbe's DNA. This paradigm shift may change the way scientists think about life, strengthening their ability to search for life in outer space on planets that may have been previously considered inhospitable, according to NASA.
However, many scientists dispute the ability of arsenic to replace phosphorus. University of British Columbia microbiologist Rosie Redfield blogged that NASA's evidence was mostly "flim-flam" with "very little reliable information."
Skeptics have said the result produced was due to sloppy lab work, primarily a failure to properly clean the microbe's DNA. If the DNA was arsenic-based, instead of phosphorus-based, the DNA should break down when immersed in water. NASA scientists later said they were feeding the microbes salts contaminated with very little phosphate, but enough to sustain life.
The research has shown that our concept of the requirements of life in the universe may be too narrow and there may be organisms among the stars much different than those on Earth.