The discovery of a strange bacteria that can use arsenic as one of its nutrients widens the scope for finding new forms of life on Earth and possibly beyond. While researchers discovered the unusual bacteria here on Earth, they say it shows that life has possibilities beyond the major elements that have been considered essential.
"This organism has dual capability. It can grow with either phosphorous or arsenic. That makes it very peculiar, though it falls short of being some form of truly 'alien' life," commented Paul C. W. Davies of Arizona State University, a co-author of the report appearing in Thursday's online edition of the journal Science.
Six major elements have long been considered essential for life - carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur.
But the researchers found that the bacteria, discovered in Mono Lake, Calif., is able to continue to grow after substituting arsenic for phosphorous.
"It makes you wonder what else is possible," said Ariel D. Anbar of Arizona State University, a co-author of the report.