NASA has made a bit of a stir by announcing a press conference for tomorrow at 2pm EST. Scientists are going to reveal some exciting new findings relvent to the search for extraterrestrial life. Some people are anticipating/hoping that they will announce that extraterrestrial life has been confirmed. No one would be more excited than I (I love being able to make silly statements like this) were that the case, but I would bet a lot of money that it is, sadly, not. Don't get me wrong, I am super-excited about this announcement because most likely it is going to deal with extremeophile microbes - and who doesn't think those are the coolest things around here?
Most likely they are going to announce that microbes have been discovered in Mono Lake, California that live on Arsenic. I say this for 3 reasons:
- its what my advisor predicted, and he knows everything, right?
- a friend pointed me towards this article.
- last year I heard one of the women scheduled to speak (Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon) talk about her efforts to discover such an arsenic consuming organism
I know what you are thinking (ok, maybe not you, since you are reading this blog). Many people will, no doubt be disappointed by all the hubub over some microbe, but this really is big news. It means that life may be possible in places that previously were considered too toxic to even be considered. But, I am getting ahead of myself... lets let them make the announcement first, and then I will do my best to explain why it matter, or maybe doesn't.
Tune in here tomorrow at 2pm EST.
I was thinking it may have something to do with Rhea, but you may very well be correct in light of what you have presented. In any event, I hope the conference lives up to the hype (unlike most of these popularity contest press conferences; Ida, anyone?).
A new "kind" of organisms would be much more exciting than, say, an isotopic signature indicating something that may or may not be a life form on another planet/moon.
Question: If it is an arsenic-using organism on earth, is it related to other life on earth, or does it descend from a separate origin of life on earth? If the former, is the arsenic based feature pleiseomorphic or derived?
(Might as well add the biological equivalent of a point spread to the odds!)
According to this Gizmodo article, the conference may not be about an organism that uses arsenic but one that has arsenic in its DNA.
Thanks for sharing that link, Chris. This is related to Greg's question too. A totally parallel evolution of organisms on Earth (genetically unrelated to all life as we know it) would be like finding alien life here on Earth!
I didn't want to speculate too much before the actual conference, but that is one of the things I heard Dr. Wolfe-Simon speak about, and I was kind of hoping that's what the discovery would be. I can't wait for the details!