News of the WeekBiochemistry

What Poison? Bacterium Uses Arsenic to Build DNA and Other Molecules

Science  03 Dec 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6009, pp. 1302
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6009.1302

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Summary

In a paper published online by Science this week, researchers describe GFAJ-1, a bacterial strain that they say can replace the phosphorus in its key biomolecules, including DNA, with the legendary poison arsenic. The researchers speculate that organisms like GFAJ-1 could have thrived in the arsenic-laden hydrothermal vent–like environments of early Earth, where some researchers think life first arose, and that later organisms may have adapted to using phosphorus. Others say they'll refrain from such speculation until they see more evidence of GFAJ-1's taste for arsenic and understand how the DNA and other biomolecules can still function with the element incorporated.