Lecture Details

SLAC Public Lecture Series

Past Lecture

Life Redefined: Microbes Built with Arsenic

Sam Webb, SLAC and Felisa Wolfe-Simon , NASA and U.S. Geological Survey
Tuesday, March 22, 2011 07:30 pm

UPDATE - In the time following this lecture, aspects of the research featured here have been disproven or come into question. See this article from Chemical & Engineering News for important context before viewing this archival SLAC public lecture.


Life can survive in many harsh environments, from extreme heat to the presence of deadly chemicals. However, life as we know it has always been based on the same six elements -- carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulfur and phosphorus. Now it appears that even this rule has an exception.

In the saline and poisonous environment of Mono Lake, researchers have found a bacterium that can grow by incorporating arsenic into its structure in place of phosphorus. X-ray images taken at SLAC's synchrotron light source reveal that this microbe may even use arsenic as a building block for DNA. Please join us as we describe this discovery, which rewrites the textbook description of how living cells work.


About the Speaker: