Strange alien bacteria feeding off arsenic in water that is hyper-saline and alkaline? This sounds almost like a strange life form from an episode of Star Trek. But it is not science fiction, it is real life. NASA announced that at the bottom Mono Lake in California, a microorganism replaces the toxic chemical arsenic for phosphorous. The microbe is then able to create cell components with phosphorous. Scientists were able to observe this activity in the lab, and determined that key cell components were using the arsenic as a building block.
An Alien-Like Bacteria
The newly discovered microorganism was named as GFAJ-1, belongs to a strain of bacteria called Gammaproteobacteria. The new GFAJ-1 microbe falls into the same classification of bacteria that around found in and around deep geothermal ocean vents. Other more common bacteria, such as Salmonella E-coli, and Cholera also belong to this group.
The discovery, and announcement by NASA provides support for the idea that extra-terrestrial life may use completely different processes and chemicals for metabolizing substance into energy. The discovery of the GFAJ-1 bacteria supports the idea the NASA will continue to broaden its scope in searching for extra-terrestrial life forms. NASA may find extra-terrestrial evidence of simple forms of life in places that were previously never thought to exist, such as planets made up of exotic gases. New technologies may be needed that outfit spacecraft that studies planets on the micro-scopic, as well as macroscopic level, as they do today.
Mono Lake- Like an Alien World
Mono Lake is located in east central California. The lake is completely cut off from any fresh water supply. Its main fresh water supply was cut off when water was taken out of the Owens River to feed the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913.
The lack of any fresh water input, other than rainfall, allows salts and many other chemicals leaching out of the rocks and soils to remain in lake waters, even as the water evaporates. Thus, the salinity of Mono Lake is continually in the rise.
Despite the high salinity, and harsh conditions, the lake still serves as an important habit to several bird species. Mono Lake plays host to its own species of brine shrimp, as well as alkali flies. These smaller creatures serve as a food source for resident birds, as well as a variety of migratory birds.