Mono Lake Alien…Sort Of

Mono LakeSo it is not an alien, but it is closer than we have come before.  In 2008, a team of researchers headed by Dr. Ronald Oremland of the US Geological Survey found bacteria that used arsenic as an energy source to photosynthesize carbon dioxide into food.  The samples were taken from Mono Lake in California.  The evidence suggested bacteria photosynthesized before the presence of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere.  Lakes similar to Mono Lake are fed by hydrothermal waters, drawing arsenic from surrounding rock.  In 2009, Professor Paul Davies (a physicist at Arizona State University) encouraged scientists to look to arsenic-rich environments and hydrothermal vents for a “second genesis” of life on Earth.

PoisonIt was an accepted fact that life on Earth is not possible without six elements—carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus.  However, Professor Davies and his team have raised bacteria from Mono Lake in a lab to find it has substituted arsenic for phosphorus.  This differs from the 2008 discovery because, instead of merely respirating arsenic, the bacteria has incorporated arsenic into its DNA.  This means an element found to be poisonous to life is the very element the bacteria in question need to survive.  Davies suggests this points to an adaptation, rather than a new life form.  Still, the discovery shows life is not limited to practical conditions on Earth.  Furthermore, this shows the lack of understanding we have of the scope at which life can be sustained.

Oglethorpe and EmoryIf life can thrive in, or adapt to, conditions we originally thought to be impossible, it becomes easier to consider the possibility of lifeforms developing in other unthinkable environments—possibly other planets.  Once people accept life existing outside of Earth’s atmosphere, it is just a hop, skip and a jump to public acceptance of the existence of other celestial/planetary environments conducive to development of such lifeforms into something intelligent.  Aliens to the right are Oglethorpe and Emory from the show, Aqua Teen Hunger Force…not exactly intelligent lifeforms.


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