Not everyone is thrilled with NASA’s recent discovery of a new type of bacteria.On December 2nd, NASA announced the special bacteria from Mono Lake in California that are able to survive in an arsenic environment by substituting arsenic for phosphorus in their cells. The geomicrobiologist who led the study of this bacteria stated that this “opens the door for us to think about biology in ways we have never thought,” as she was presenting the findings of NASA’s study. But scientists are coming forward who feel the science behind the study is flawed.
NASA’s research was published in the journal Science, among others. After reading the research, Rosie Redfield, a microbiology professor at the University of British Columbia, was “outraged at how bad the science was.”
In an article entitled “Arsenate-based DNA: a big idea with big holes” posted on a science blog, Harvard microbiologist Alex Bradley states, “The study published in Science has a number of flaws. In particular, one subtle but critical piece of evidence has been overlooked, and it demonstrates that the DNA in question actually has a phosphate – not an arsenate -backbone.”
While some scientists are criticizing the results of NASA’s study, others are wondering why NASA would create so much hype over a potentially flawed study. John Roth of UC-Davis speculates “that NASA may be so desperate for a positive story that they didn’t look for any serious advice from DNA or even microbiology people.”