Scientists said Thursday that they had trained a bacterium to could eat and grow on a diet of arsenic, in place of phosphorus -- one of six elements considered essential for life -- opening up the possibility that organisms could exist elsewhere in the universe or even here on Earth using biochemical powers we have not yet dared to dream about.
The bacterium, scraped from the bottom of Mono Lake in California and grown for months in a lab mixture containing arsenic, gradually swapped out atoms of phosphorus in its little body for atoms of arsenic.
Scientists said the results, if confirmed, would expand the notion of what life could be and where it could be. "There is basic mystery, when you look at life," said Dimitar Sasselov, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and director of an institute on the origins of life there, who was not involved in the work. "Nature only uses a restrictive set of molecules and chemical reactions out of many thousands available. This is our first glimmer that maybe there are other options." Thriving on arsenic, a microbe may redefine life