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NASA Discovers New Life

| 2 Dec 2010 20:00
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NASA has discovered an all-new form of life in a lake in California, alerting governments around the world to a possible foothold situation that could herald the end of life as we know it!

At a press conference this afternoon, NASA revealed that the cryptic announcement from earlier this week, promising to "impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life," was actually related to a discovery right here on Earth: a microbe called GFAJ-1, an all-new kind of life discovered in Mono Lake in California that substitutes arsenic for phosphorus at the cellular level.

Phosphorus, as a panel of distinguished scientists explained, is one of the six "basic building blocks" of all known life on Earth; it's a "central component of the energy-carrying molecule in all cells (adenosine triphosphate) and also the phospholipids that form all cell membranes." If one of those six basic building blocks is substituted with something else - in this case, arsenic, which "disrupts metabolic pathways because chemically it behaves similarly to phosphate" and is thus poisonous to most life on the planet - it means, simply put, that there's more to life than life as we know it.

"We know that some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we've found is a microbe doing something new - building parts of itself out of arsenic," said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA Astrobiology Research Fellow in residence at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California and the research team's lead scientist. "If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven't seen yet?"

"The definition of life has just expanded," noted NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Ed Weiler. "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."

Some commenters have expressed disappointment that NASA didn't have a full-blown, English-speaking alien visitor to present to the world, but Astrobiology Program Director Mary Voytek said the discovery was very much like the classic Star Trek episode "The Devil in the Dark", which introduced the silicon-based life form known as the Horta. "This is a huge deal," she said.

Despite the scientists' enthusiasm and excitement, it's clear that this is also quite possibly a foothold situation, heralding the beginning of the end of human hegemony as the very planet that sustains us is slowly transformed into a hostile, unlivable world. Air pollution? Global warming? Camouflage, my friends. The enemy is already among us.

To learn more about these startling revelations and the beginning of the end of life as we know it, check out NASA.gov.

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