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Arsenic-driven origin of life takes hit

In “Critics take aim at NASA ‘arsenic life’ study” (May 27, 2011), CBC News tells us

Eight articles questioning a controversial study claiming that some bacteria can use the normally toxic substance arsenic to build DNA have been published in the journal Science.The study, published last December in Science, was led by NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe-Simon and claimed that bacteria from a lake in California were able to substitute arsenic for phosphorus, normally an essential ingredient in DNA, fats and proteins.

At issue was a new strain of a new strain of Halomonadaceae bacteria from Mono Lake, Calif., that seemed to use arsenic instead of phosphorus, which is essential for DNA, fats, and proteins. This fact, if it is a fact, was immediately drafted as an origin of life theory. Then, in an unusual move, scientists began to ask questions as if an OOL theory deserved to be taken seriously. At which point …

Real possible significance of story: Is this the first time one of NASA’s flight-by-seat-of-pants origin of life theories took a big hit from within the establishment, and not just from incredulous peasants? Perhaps so, to judge from NASA’s reaction:

At that time, NASA said Wolfe-Simon would not be responding to those criticisms, as the U.S. space agency did not feel it was appropriate to debate the science using media and blogs. Instead, it said, the debate should occur in scientific publications.

Well, they got their wish. But would that have happened if it were not for the “media and blogs”?

File under: NASA discovers the Internet.

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One Response to Arsenic-driven origin of life takes hit

  1. 1

    Bravo…

    “as the U.S. space agency did not feel it was appropriate to debate the science using media and blogs. Instead, it said, the debate should occur in scientific publications.”

    This is how these things should be done. The problem is that many of these initial claims hit the media wire first. Generally when the media type ideologies benefit from the conclusions. The media cycle picks it up, spreads it to the public in an attempt to reinforce their ideological position, and when the refutations pile up months later the public is in the dark. Ida was a classic example:

    The media haymaker:

    May 2009: “This is the first link to all humans…”

    http://news.nationalgeographic.....found.html

    Or not: After about three months of ideological marination…

    July 2009[the creep away]: “Not only is Ida too old to reveal anything about the evolution of humans in particular (the earliest putative human ancestors are a mere seven million years old), but she may not even be particularly closely related to the so-called anthropoid branch of the primate family tree that includes monkeys, apes and us.”

    http://www.scientificamerican......-darwinius

    This website covered this move very well:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....nk-fossil/

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