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The Daily Need

Photo: New kind of life in the poison lake

Photo: Bert Dennison via Flickr/bertdennisonphotography

Mono Lake just outside of Yosemite National Park in California is a hauntingly beautiful place. In 1941, water that fed the lake through tributary streams was diverted 350 miles south to meet the water needs of Los Angeles. Without its natural sources of fresh water, the volume of Mono Lake dropped to half. This caused its salinity level to double and led to the collapse of the lake ecosystem. Exposed lake beds produced toxic alkali dust storms on windy days.

One of the oldest lakes in North America had, in a very short period of time, became a poisoned alkaline lake containing chlorides, carbonates and sulfates. At one point, it was three times as salty as the ocean. In 1994, the California State Water Resources Control Board issued an order to protect and restore Mono Lake and its tributary streams, and since then, the water level in the lake has steadily risen. Water restoration efforts are estimated to last 20 years.

Today, NASA held a press conference to announce the discovery of an arsenic-based life form at Mono Lake. Bacteria found living in the lake sediment have incorporated the poisonous element into their proteins and DNA. It shakes up the idea that life is mostly made up of just six elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus. Since the bacterium, strain GFAJ-1 of the Halomonadaceae family of Gammaproteobacteria, had replaced phosphorus with arsenic, it became the only known living thing to ever break out of the established formula.

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  • Trisha Springstead

    Why would anyone be excited about a life form that incorporates poison into it DNA. Haven’t we as humans been poisoned enough from our environment?? We already have Toxic Humans.

  • Zack Began

    Because previous to this, we thought that life could only be based off of the building blocks carbon, phosphorus, silicon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen.

    This is incredible news, it exponentially increases the chances of intelligent life outside our solar system!

  • Mark C.

    This is something that has been speculated for a while now. Our theory of evolution supports no belief that life must be based off the building blocks which Earth’s lifeforms have evolved to utilize. However, previous to this, we have had no evidence to substantiate this claim. This discovery is important for many reasons, one in particular is the existence of methane on Saturn’s moon Titan. On this moon, methane acts as water does for Earth…there are methane lakes, methane ice, methane rain and storms etc. (which is actually the reason that Grunts from the Halo series respirate methane). Therefore, with different climate and atmospheric composition, it is logical to conclude that life forms can develop using available, compatible elements as building blocks.

  • mitchell schooler

    actually, we should be very excited about this life form. because it uses arsenic as its building block, supposedly it can be genetically altered, scientifically, to be put in the body and take away arsenic. it uses arsenic, so it seeks arsenic, and uses it up. therefore, if we have any in our body, it can take it out. i am hoping they realize this. if my 60-year-old aunt can rewlaize it, im sure someone at nasa will.

  • Joseph Amodio

    Its only poison because its dangerous to us as humans. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be calling it poison would we? Its just a different way to adapte and survice in its own environment.

  • Anonymous

    yeah! with concentrated acid for blood! ahhhhhh!

  • pariah

    Tha commints are much moor entaristing than tha artacal