Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NASA Sets News Conference on Astrobiology Discovery

NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe. The news conference will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency's website at

The participants will include: Mary Voytek, Director, Astrobiology Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington. Felisa Wolfe-Simon, NASA Astrobiology Research Fellow, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif. Pamela Conrad, Astrobiologist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Steven Benner, Distinguished Fellow, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Gainesville, Fla. James Elser, Professor, Arizona State University, Tempe

Speculation as to what  NASA's Astrobiology announcement tomorrow seem to concern around Arsenic-based biochemistry and the implications for the origin of life on Earth, how it may have happened more than once on our planet, and the implications for life arising elsewhere in the universe. Attached is an article published by the UK Sunday Times on the work being conducted by Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon.

"Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a geobiologist, is interested in the lake not for its scenery but because it may be harbouring alien life forms, or “weird life”. Mono Lake, a basin with no outlet, has built up over many millennia one of the highest natural concentrations of arsenic on Earth. Dr Wolfe-Simon is investigating whether, in the mud around the lake or in the water, there exist microbes whose biological make-up is so fundamentally different from that of any known life on Earth that it may provide proof of a shadow biosphere, a second genesis for life on this planet. Arsenic is chemically close to phosphorus. While phosphorus is a primary building block of life on Earth — an essential component of DNA and ATP, the energy molecule — arsenic is a deadly poison. In Mono Lake there are micro-organisms that live with arsenic. But they don’t incorporate it into their biology. Dr Wolfe-Simon has theorised that there may be life that chose an “evolutionary pathway” to utilise arsenic. If such microbes existed, it could suggest that life started on our planet not once but at least twice. In turn this would help to support the idea that life is much more likely to have started elsewhere in the galaxy."

More on the concept of a "shadow biosphere" from Dr. Wolfe-Simon.
Credit: The Science Channel

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