Some Guys Just Can't Hold Their Arsenic

Several months ago, as I was rolling through my usual science blog updates, I stumbled upon something truly amazing. Scientists had discovered life forms in California's Mono Lake that used arsenic instead of phosphate in their DNA.

A little background to hopefully make this all seem a little cooler (and less nerdy): Our DNA (and all known DNA to this point) uses a sugar-phosphate backbone to hold the nucleobases (A,T,C,G) in their double-helix structure (see picture). These phosphates have important chemical properties and interactions, without which our genetic code wouldn't be able to be expressed. So, really, this small structural change from phosphorous to arsenic (which has been thought to be totally toxic to cells) would open up a WHOLE Pandora's Box of problems that could have shaken the very foundation of what we know about evolution and modern biology.

A few days ago, though, I discovered that further studies have brought this discovery into serious question. The original findings have been deemed "not thorough enough" and lacking rigorousness of the scientific method. This article sums the arguments against the idea pretty nicely, but it's a little technical.

What's somewhat depressing to me here, is that I was so excited and all "Holy crap, this is science at its awesomest! Look at the awesome shit we are going to discover about life after this!!" but sadly, it seems that it isn't so. I get like this a lot about science, where I can suddenly see all these possibilities, but unfortunately it just isn't that simple. One study is rarely enough to be a complete and total breakthrough, and even then faces years and years of revision and opposition to hold on to its promise. That is kind of discouraging to me, and one of the reasons that I knew research wasn't always going to be for me. I love my work, honestly, but I'm totally one of those people that needs to see the fruits of my immediately.


  1. Not nerdy at all!! I think its amazing that your are so interested and PASSIONATE about science!! Seriously, I love it!

  2. Wow, that is so cool! Science is really endless in it's possibilities, it really is mind blowing! It's great to be passionate about something, and it's awesome that it's science for you!

  3. I love the title of this. Makes me want to watch Chicago, badly.


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