Bacteria Discovery Could Point to New Life Forms

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A strange bacteria recently discovered in California could broaden scientific research of new life forms on earth and possibly other planets.

Six major elements are considered essential for life - carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur.

But the organism found in Mono Lake, Calif., continues to grow even when arsenic is substituted for phosphorus.

"That makes it very peculiar, though it falls short of being some form of truly 'alien' life," said Paul C. W. Davies of Arizona State University.

Davies co-authored a report on the bacteria that appeared in Thursday's online edition of the journal Science.

"It makes you wonder what else is possible," added Ariel D. Anbar, co-author of the report.

The microbe does grow better on phosphorous, but the fact that it can also live with toxic arsenic raises the possibility that a life form using arsenic could occur naturally, on earth or beyond.

The research was supported by NASA, the Department of Energy, and the National Institutes of Health.

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