The Science Show has an good story on the strangeness of the arsenic utilising bacteria that NASA announced last week. Interestingly, the woman who found them had predicted they should exist. Very clever. Physicist author Paul Davies was involved too. He summarised the discovery as follows:
This is the first time that any living organism has been found that can operate outside of the six basic elements on which all hitherto known life depends, which is carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulphur and lastly phosphorus. It's replacing phosphorus with arsenic. And it's doing this not just in a casual way, not just by stripping the energy out. We have known organisms that will do this. The way I best describe it is that they smoke the arsenic without inhaling it. These are organisms that take the arsenic into their innards, into their vital biological machinery, incorporating it into their biomass. So what we're dealing with here is a radically new type of organism. It's not just an outlier on the known spectrum of life.
And in other new bug news, it turns out that it is bacteria that are eating away the poor old Titanic:
Microorganisms collected from a "rusticle" – a structure that looks like an icicle but consists of rust – are slowly destroying the iron hull of the liner on the seabed 3.8km (2.36 miles) below the Atlantic waves where it plummeted, killing 1,517 people, in April 1912.
The newly identified species, while potentially dangerous to vital underwater installations such as offshore oil and gas pipelines, could also offer a new way to recycle iron from old ships and marine structures, according to the researchers from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and Seville University in Spain. The discovery of the bacterium, now named Halomonas titanicae, will be reported in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiologyon Wednesday. When the researchers tested its rusting ability in the lab, they found that it was able to adhere to steel surfaces, creating knob-like mounds of corrosion products.
I wonder if some new bug that would be helpful for terraforming Mars will be found soon.