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How alleged 'arsenic munching' bacteria survives in toxic Calif. lake

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Bacteria that became famous for their alleged "arsenic-munching" ability, a phenomenon later proved unlikely, may have evolved to sport proteins that filter out the toxic element, new research suggests.

The bacteria, called GFAJ-1, a member of the genus Halomonadaceae, live in California's Mono Lake, amidst concentrations of arsenic that would kill most other life forms. During a 2010 NASA news conference, Felisa Wolfe-Simon, then of NASA's Astrobiology Institute, announced GFAJ-1 was incorporating arsenate (a form of arsenic) into its DNA in place of phosphate (a compound commonly used by life).

Though the announcement was met with plenty of skepticism, one argument behind the swap was the fact that arsenate and phosphate are chemically similar, as both are atoms bonded with four oxygen atoms.
 
 

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