Update: Watch video of NASA announcing their discovery at the bottom of this report
It’s not exactly little green men but NASA is expected to announce Thursday that it has discovered a new life form unlike anything previously known.
The new life form is made up of arsenic instead of phosphorus. All life forms previously known were made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Up until this point, the DNA of all living creatures was made of the same stuff, but that will all change with this announcement.
The Dutch website NOS reported that NASA scientists found the new life form in the poisonous Mono Lake in California. Bacteria made up of arsenic was previously thought to be impossible.
“The GFAJ-1 bacterium naturally resides in the arsenic-rich waters (200 uM) of Mono Lake located in California’s Eastern Sierra, and it belongs to a family of proteobacteria that is known to accumulate arsenic,” wrote Yun Xie for Ars Technica. “It’s not remarkable that GFAJ-1 survives in high concentrations of arsenic, but what is startling is that it potentially integrates arsenic into its DNA and proteins.”
“Rather than just retaining arsenic inside the cells, the authors provided evidence that the bacteria actually integrated arsenic into DNA and possibly other biomolecules. They found higher arsenic and lower phosphorus content in purified genomic DNA of bacteria grown in arsenate compared to control cells.”
“The implications of this discovery are enormous to our understanding of life itself and the possibility of finding beings in other planets that don’t have to be like planet Earth,” Gizmodo noted.
NASA watchers had speculated that the 2 p.m. EST press conference would reveal that NASA had found the building blocks of arsenic-based life on one of Saturn’s moons.
“If I had to guess at what NASA is going to reveal on Thursday, I’d say that they’ve discovered arsenic on Titan and maybe even detected chemical evidence of bacteria utilizing it for photosynthesis (by following the elements),” Jason Kottke wrote.
Of course, it’s possible that the NASA could announce a completely different “astrobiology finding.”
The news conference is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. EST. A live video stream will be available from NASA.
This video is from NASA TV, broadcast Dec. 2, 2010.