Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Alien Arsenic-Boy Is So Last Year

The Science of AliensImage by MJ/TR (´・ω・) via Flickr
 Last December we reported on a controversial paper published in Science which claimed to have discovered bacteria that feed on arsenic instead of phosphorous. According to NASA, this research promised to provide "an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life." At that time the media reported things like:

  • scientists discovered "a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today" (Wired)

  • the "bacteria is made of arsenic" (Wired)

  • the bacteria is "capable of using arsenic to build its DNA, RNA, proteins, and cell membranes" (Gizmodo)

  • the paper had reported "arsenic-based life" which is "very alien in terms of how it's put together" and "NASA has, in a very real sense, discovered a form of alien life" (io9)

  • "you can potentially cross phosphorus off the list of elements required for life" (Nature)

  • But soon after the original Science paper was published, credible scientists began critiquing the paper's claims....

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    Anonymous said...

    "According to NASA, this research .....will impact the search .... extraterrestrial life"

    Sounds like somebody at NASA is playing up to the press or is inexperienced at dealing with the press.

    Commenting on findings that have not yet been thoroughly peer reviewed is almost always a bad idea.

    As for the press clippings? - Please. They're journalists not rocket scientists (literallly). It's a wonder they didn't make a headline refernce to Star Wars to make it more readable.

    RkBall said...

    Anon -- "According to NASA, this research .....will impact the search .... extraterrestrial life"

    This is exactly how NASA characterized it. And, to build interest, they made this announcement a day or two before they announced the actual scientific findings.

    Joe said...

    NASA stopped doing science years ago and has devolved into a government teat sucking organization. Every few years they come out with some asinine statement claiming to have found life in outer space or at least the potential for life in outer space. It justifies their existence and they hope fool some president into sending men to Mars. Remember the 'martian meteor'? lol

    "... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"