Earlier this week I was very interested in hearing about what the find by NASA would be regarding Astrobiology. What could it be? Could they have found life in the solar system apart from earth?
Well, not quite. I just had to laugh when I heard that this organism they found was from Mono Lake. One of my dad's old pictures of the Mono Lake tufa from way back:
Even more funny was that I had a presentation to give about an hour after the Nasa press conference where a small part of it would be about Mono Lake. The people I was presenting to had not heard anything about the new find so I was able to say a little of what I knew about this. Then, when it was over I was kicking myself for not having my new Clint Eastwood "Return to Lago" blogs/videos up yet...give me another month or two.
Here is what I got out of this. Life as we know it is carbon based that has six essential ingredients: oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, carbon, and phosphorus. Mono Lake, which has three times the amount of salt than the ocean, is rich in phosphorus and arsenic. They found microbes that live in this environment at Mono Lake. They took them to a lab and found that by taking away some of the phosphorus the microbes were able to grow with arsenic instead. Therefore, life is more complicated than we thought because it appears that the conditions life can exist in is bigger than originally thought.
The research is impressive. Maybe not as dramatic as the popular media and some of what I have seen written online, but still very cool and I eagerly away to see where this leads. Can these microbes live completely without phosophorus? What mechanism(s) in their machinery allow them to do this? I noticed that NYU chemist, Robert Shapiro, had these to say in one of the articles I will list below:
"This is an interesting curiosity, a novel discovery but not a paradigm-breaking one," said New York University chemist Robert Shapiro, an authority on DNA and the origin of life who was not involved in the project. "It is a cousin of known living things that has some peculiar habits."
Shapiro is one of the respected skeptics to this type of research that I have read in the past. In any case, I will let the scientists clash with each other on this one.
Of course, I probably would not be bringing any of this up had it not been for Mono Lake. If you have read this blog for any amount of time then you know this lake comes up once in while. It is really wild place. I cannot say I enjoy being there during the heat of the day during the summer. However, I do not think I ever showed the time the wind was REALLY BAD one day I was nearby. As I remember, this was a few years back. In fact, it was a day that I intended to do the Eastwood videos, but had to come back on another day. The wind was causing all sorts of waves and water in the air.As I remember, there was a man who died on this day because he was caught with his kayak at there. Yeah, once the winds come up, you get out of there.Back to the new find for moment as I wrap this up. I am curious how the Mono Lake group is going to try to use this to their advantage. As one who has property nearby I get the advertisements and "send us money" routine. Not that is a bad thing because everyone does that, especially during these economic times. However, sometimes I see them as totally unrealistic about things: their disappointment with proposition 21. Believe me, they and the rest of the Sierra gets enough money out of me, my relatives, and friends.
The BBC article on the Arsenic Loving Bacteria
The Wall Street Journal article on New Link in Chain of Life
Oh, btw, if you did not understand why I used the title above for this blog entry check out my April 1st blog here:
Yer a Bunch of IdiOts!
Also, you can compare the new Nasa photo of the day with my picture of Mt. Dana. For a moment I thought it was my picture. Of course, everyone that hikes Mt. Dana gets this shot:
NASA picture of Mono Lake from Dana
My Mt. Dana Hike (the second picture is the one you want)