Updates to this story
Strapped for cash organisation NASA claims that research it funded will, er, fundamentally change the shape of biology textbooks to come.
There is a rather unlovely place in America called Mono Lake (pictured) and boffins fiddling around in the water claim to have discovered a micro-organism that uses arsenic rather than phosphorous to reproduce.
Said Ed Weller, NASA’s associate administrator in Washington: “As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it.”
It is unclear why NASA wants to seek signs of life in the solar system when we already know there is life on earth. Even in the toxic Mono Lake, apparently. The real question is whether there is intelligence on earth.
Arsenic has long been known to one of the mammalian species on the planet to be a good way to do away with mammalians-you-don’t-like.
Famous victims of arsenic poisoning – it’s not always clear whether they were done in by it or not – include Napoleon Bonaparte, Simon Bolivar, Francesco I de’Medici, and Charles Francis Hall (who he? Ed).
According to an encyclopaedia called Wikipedia, systems of arsenic poisoning begin with headaches, confusion and drowsiness. Sounds like a bad hangover, but worse is to come before you croak.
The poisoning was particularly popular with the Borgias, a dynasty that seemed to be interested in bumping off rivals. Thank goodness the Renaissance was followed by the Enlightenment, meaning that now in the 21st century we are all rational creatures and that.
NASA says that carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus (sic) and what it calls sulfur (sic) are the basic building block of earthlingy things. So to find a micro-organism on earth that uses arsenic – no it’s not called assnic - rather than phosphorous, first extracted from wee, no not the Wii, is a real find.
I can’t remember the 1950s science fiction author who first postulated that there could be silicon based life as well as carbon based life in the universe. If only he hadn’t written it. It’s resulted in Intel, surely the biggest Borg of all time in our solar system. Borg is unrelated to the Borgias.
The NASA report is here.