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So what were you expecting? A real-life alien to waltz out onto stage? Pictures of life lived happily on another planet? Intense speculation and wild theorising came to an end after NASA’s press conference to announce the discovery of an arsenic-eating bacterium.
The space agency had created monumental online buzz with its mysterious announcement of a news conference on Thursday to discuss a scientific finding that relates to the hunt for life beyond the planet Earth. Alien speculators went into overdrive.
The truth is far less dramatic, but could eventually be equally as profound. The news that a bacterium discovered in California can exist on arsenic and without phosphorus “opens up the possibility that organisms could exist elsewhere in the universe or even here on Earth using biochemical powers we have not yet dared to dream about,” reports the New York Times.
London’s Telegraph newspaper explains: “Somehow the creature uses the arsenic as a way of surviving and this ability raises the prospect that similar life could exist on other planets, which do not have our benevolent atmosphere”.
It’s not exactly E.T but researchers are amazed at the accomplishment of this tiny organism. Caleb Scharf, an astrobiologist at Columbia University who was not part of the research, told the New York Times, “it’s like if you or I morphed into fully functioning cyborgs after being thrown into a room of electronic scrap with nothing to eat,” he said.
But all is not lost for alien-spotters. According to the New York Times, “the results could have a major impact on space missions to Mars and elsewhere looking for life. The experiments on such missions are designed to ferret out the handful of chemical elements and reactions that have been known to characterize life on Earth.”
NASA also speculated that the organism could be used productively to treat toxic waste dumps that are laced with arsenic. After all, who needs aliens when bacteria can be trained to do the dirty work?
The Huffington Post reports that “NASA concluded the press conference by saying future discoveries could be on the horizon: ‘Science never sleeps.'”