Found in Mono Lake: Bizarro Bacterium Can Build Its DNA With Arsenic

By Eliza Strickland | December 3, 2010 11:47 am

The science world is abuzz with news of a strange new life form found in California’s Mono Lake: Researchers report that they’ve discovered a bacterium that can not only thrive in an arsenic-rich environment, it can actually use that arsenic to build its DNA. If the researchers, who published their findings in Science, are correct, then they’ve found a form of life unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

As you might expect, DISCOVER’s blogs offered plenty of coverage of this exciting news.

At The Loom, Carl Zimmer writes: “Scientists have found a form of life that they claim bends the rules for life as we know it. But they didn’t need to go to another planet to find it. They just had to go to California.”

At Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait explains exactly how the bacteria can make use of arsenic to build their DNA. A few days ago, Phil also took NASA to task for its press release promising news of “an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life,” which fueled wild speculation on whether NASA had found little green men in the solar system.

At Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong debunks a few of the more breathless accounts. The bacteria do not “belong to a second branch of life on Earth…. They aren’t a parallel branch of life; they’re very much part of the same tree that the rest of us belong to. That doesn’t, however, make them any less extraordinary.”

At Gene Expression, Razib Khan has more thoughts on the wild speculation that preceded the announcement–which he compares to the hype surrounding the unveiling of the Segway.

Related Content:
80beats: Life Found in the Deepest, Unexplored Layer of the Earth’s Crust
80beats: Do Asphalt-Loving Microbes Point the Way to Life on Titan?
80beats: Arsenic-Eating Bacteria May Resemble Early Life on Primordial Earth
DISCOVER: Renewed Hope for Life on the Red Planet

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • mike walker

    this is awsome i want to know as much as posible including the structure of this life it a life form or bacteria i neeeeed to know more!!!!and anything elts u can tell me …


    mike walker

    ps telllllllll me everything..

  • Matt B.

    So are those formations on the lake salt pillars? If so, how old are they?

  • joe

    i found it interesting that when nasa gave a live press update on t.v. they were shut down mid sentance by????? and not a word of this dicovery was heard again until this article. you could hear the news anchor cursing in the background how the government had no right to shut them down.

  • scott

    I drove past Mono a few years back, had never been, and had planned to stop and take a swim…and was I suprised. The car was parked and I ran down to the water only to quickly turn around and run back as fast as I could. There was this nasty, salty, muddy beach I sunk into covered in millions of tiny black flies that swarmed like a cloud and it smelled something fierce and you could see the flies on the shore for a hundred yards in each direction. I guess that is part of its natural envirnment? More info would be nice..has it always been like this? I know its much lower than it used to be.

  • Rafael Moya (Mexico)

    Is it the evolution consequence? Then this bacteria is a modern way of life. What do think the reserchers about this possibility?


    If this new life that has arsenic to build its DNA, but still has the other 5-components of the DNA, shows that is has a relationship with the phosphate base DNA and either it evolve from Phosphate DNA or the Phosphate DNA evolve from it. My quess is that the arsenic DNA evolve from the Phosphate DNA since water has been around from the beginning. Now, when you find a life form that has completely different components of the DNA or just a few components of our DNA, then you can make claim of a 2nd genesis or a complete new life form. In evolutionary terms it’s not hard to imagine in a high arsenic environment, any life forms that has characteristics to survive the arsenic, but also exploit it would have a great advantage and would pass it on to future generations.

  • http:/ Karla Campos

    Wow, I am actually in the California area, it would be nice to pass by the famous lake for a bacteria sample.


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