Thursday, December 2, 2010

Science continues to amaze

Dennis Overbye, New York Times, December 2, 2010
Scientists said Thursday that they had trained a bacterium to eat and grow on a diet of arsenic, in place of phosphorus — one of six elements considered essential for life — opening up the possibility that organisms could exist elsewhere in the universe or even here on Earth using biochemical powers we have not yet dared to dream about.
The bacterium, scraped from the bottom of Mono Lake in California and grown for months in a lab mixture containing arsenic, gradually swapped out atoms of phosphorus in its little body for atoms of arsenic
Scientists said the results, if confirmed, would expand the notion of what life could be and where it could be. “There is basic mystery, when you look at life,” said Dimitar Sasselov, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and director of an institute on the origins of life there, who was not involved in the work. “Nature only uses a restrictive set of molecules and chemical reactions out of many thousands available. This is our first glimmer that maybe there are other options.”

And then there is this from David Suzuki's, The Nature of Things, December 2, 2010, on CBC
The earth has two North poles, the geographic and the magnetic. The magnetic pole is the one that attracts the needles of our compasses. It’s always moving, but could it be about to flip? What will be the impact? Paleomagnetism has taught us that the magnetic pole flips regularly, going from north to south and vice versa, once every 250,000 years on average. However, the last inversion occurred 780,000 years ago! Are we on the eve of such a major event?

When North Goes South follows Canadian geophysicist Larry Newitt and French geologist Jean-Jacques Orgeval as they meet astronauts, marine biologists, paleo and archeomagneticians, in an attempt to understand, measure and explain the consequences of a pole inversion

And a little earlier this week, we learned that scientists were working on extending the length of life in animals, through research on the theromes at the end of chromosomes...
What's next, in a world seemingly fixated on Wikileaks, Twitter, Facebook and debts, deficits and wars?

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