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NASA发现新型地球细菌 联想:可拓展地外生命搜寻范围

NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical

NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.

Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components.

"The definition of life has just expanded," said Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it."

This finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth. The research is published in this week's edition of Science Express.

Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur are the six basic building blocks of all known forms of life on Earth. Phosphorus is part of the chemical backbone of DNA and RNA, the structures that carry genetic instructions for life, and is considered an essential element for all living cells.

Phosphorus is a central component of the energy-carrying molecule in all cells (adenosine triphosphate) and also the phospholipids that form all cell membranes. Arsenic, which is chemically similar to phosphorus, is poisonous for most life on Earth. Arsenic disrupts metabolic pathways because chemically it behaves similarly to phosphate.

"We know that some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we've found is a microbe doing something new -- building parts of itself out of arsenic," said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA Astrobiology Research Fellow in residence at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., and the research team's lead scientist. "If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven't seen yet?"

The newly discovered microbe, strain GFAJ-1, is a member of a common group of bacteria, the Gammaproteobacteria. In the laboratory, the researchers successfully grew microbes from the lake on a diet that was very lean on phosphorus, but included generous helpings of arsenic. When researchers removed the phosphorus and replaced it with arsenic the microbes continued to grow. Subsequent analyses indicated that the arsenic was being used to produce the building blocks of new GFAJ-1 cells.

The key issue the researchers investigated was when the microbe was grown on arsenic did the arsenic actually became incorporated into the organisms' vital biochemical machinery, such as DNA, proteins and the cell membranes. A variety of sophisticated laboratory techniques was used to determine where the arsenic was incorporated.

The team chose to explore Mono Lake because of its unusual chemistry, especially its high salinity, high alkalinity, and high levels of arsenic. This chemistry is in part a result of Mono Lake's isolation from its sources of fresh water for 50 years.

The results of this study will inform ongoing research in many areas, including the study of Earth's evolution, organic chemistry, biogeochemical cycles, disease mitigation and Earth system research. These findings also will open up new frontiers in microbiology and other areas of research.

"The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction," said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Until now a life form using arsenic as a building block was only theoretical, but now we know such life exists in Mono Lake."

The research team included scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Penn., and the Stanford Synchroton Radiation Lightsource in Menlo Park, Calif.

NASA's Astrobiology Program in Washington contributed funding for the research through its Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program and the NASA Astrobiology Institute. NASA's Astrobiology Program supports research into the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life on Earth.

以剧毒砷生长的菌株GFAJ-1
以剧毒砷生长的菌株GFAJ-1,将改写生物教科书,使地球外寻找生命的范围得以拓展
美国加利福尼亚莫诺湖研究区
美国加利福尼亚莫诺湖研究区,其湖水化学成分非常罕见,湖水含盐量、含碱量以及含砷量都非常高。
费利萨·西蒙在处理从莫诺湖中取出的泥块,充当用砷培育微生物的“温床”
费利萨·西蒙在处理从莫诺湖中取出的泥块,充当用砷培育微生物的“温床”
靠吃磷长大的GFAJ-1菌株
靠吃磷长大的GFAJ-1菌株

新浪科技讯 北京时间12月3日凌晨消息,美国宇航局在北京时间今天凌晨3时举行的新闻发布会上宣布,研究人员在加利福尼亚莫诺湖进行的试验首次发现,地球上的微生物也可以利用有毒的化学元素砷生长、繁殖。这种微生物在其细胞成分中以砷取代了磷。

  美国宇航局网站称,这项由美国宇航局资助的研究项目将改变科学家对地球上所有已知生命构成的基本认识。新的生命构成成分的发现将改写生物教科书,使地球外寻找生命的范围得以拓展。这项研究成果将发表在本周出版的《科学快讯》上。

  11月29日,美国宇航局发布公告称将于北京时间12月3日凌晨3时举行发布会,宣布一项天体生物学的新发现,该项发现将影响对外星生命的搜寻。随后即引发网络上关于美国宇航局发现外星生命体的猜疑。

  对于今天宣布的这项生命新发现,美国宇航局负责科学任务的副局长埃德•维勒尔在华盛顿表示:“生命的定义因此扩展了。由于我们正在太阳系寻找生命迹象,所以,我们的思维必须更开阔一些,角度更多一些,对未知的生命进行研究。”

  碳、氢、氮、氧、磷和硫是地球有所有已知生命形式的六大基本构建元素。其中,磷是携带生命基因的DNA和RNA的主要化学成分,被认为是所有活细胞的最重要的元素。磷还是所有细胞(三磷酸腺苷)中携带能量的分子以及构成所有细胞隔膜的磷脂的核心成分。

  但是,新发现的细菌并不是这样,它完全不同,其细胞成分中以砷取代了磷。这种情况通常被认为是完全不可能的,因为砷对地球上多数生命有毒。这一发现表明人类对生命本身的理解还存在许多未知领域,同时也暗示完全有可能在其他行星上发现与地球生命不同的生命形态。

  这项研究的首席科学家、美国宇航局研究员费利萨•沃尔夫•西蒙表示:“我知道有些微生物可以呼吸砷,但我们发现的微生物与众不同,它的部分机体组成由砷构成。如果地球上的某些东西可以做这样一些出乎我们意外的事情,那么生命还能做哪些我们还未发现的事情呢?”

  新发现的微生物----菌株GFAJ-1是一个常见细菌群Gammaproteobacteria的成员,研究人员用一种非常依赖于磷的食物成功地培育出这种微生物,但砷在其中发挥了巨大的协助作用。当研究人员将磷去掉,换成砷,这些微生物仍可以继续生长。随后的研究发现,砷被用于产生新GFAJ-1细胞的“砌块”。研究人员研究的最重要的问题是,当这种微生物依靠砷生长时,砷实际上已经成为这种生物重要的生物化学体系(诸如DNA、蛋白质和细胞膜)的一部分。

  这项研究成果将促使科学界重新检视许多领域目前正在进行的研究,其中包括对地球演化的研究、有机化学、生物地球化学循环、缓解疾病以及地球系统研究。这些发现也将在微生物学和其他研究领域新的战场。

  美国宇航局天体生物学研究所所长卡尔•皮切尔表示:“替换生命的化学成分这样的想法在科幻作品中很常见,但在此之前,将砷作为砌块,形成生命,只在理论上存在,但现在我们知道莫诺湖中就有这样的生命存在。”(孝文

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