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Arsenic-loving bacteria? New studies contradict report of bugs that seemed to break the rules

It was a provocative finding: strange bacteria in a California lake that thrived on something completely unexpected — arsenic. What it suggested is that life, a very different kind of life, could possibly exist on some other planet.

The research, published by a leading scientific journal in 2010, led to overheated speculation about how life might exist elsewhere — and quickly some dissent about the original finding.

On Sunday, that same journal, Science, released two papers that rip apart the original research. They “clearly show” that the bacteria can’t use arsenic as the researchers claimed, said an accompanying statement from the journal.

The saga began when scientists led by Felisa Wolfe-Simon of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute published a paper that said the bacteria, found at Mono Lake in eastern California, could grow by substituting arsenic for phosphorus. The researchers had looked at Mono Lake because of its high arsenic levels, and they reported their conclusions from lab experiments.
 
 

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