[ Arseen doet leven ]

Bacterie ontdekt alternatief voor fosfor

2 december 2010 Arjen Dijkgraaf 2 reacties

In Mono Lake, een arseenrijk meer in Californië, leeft een bacterie die fosfor in eiwitten en DNA kan vervangen door arseen. Fosfor is dus minder onmisbaar voor ‘Aards’ leven dan gedacht, zo melden NASA-onderzoekers op de website van Science.

De bacterie ziet er heel normaal uit.

De bacterie ziet er heel normaal uit.

Felisa Wolfe-Simon en collega’s vermoedden al dat zoiets kon zijn geëvolueerd in een milieu met veel arseen en weinig fosfor. Beide elementen staan in dezelfde kolom van het Periodiek Systeem: chemisch gezien lijken ze zo sterk op elkaar dat het gemiddelde organisme ze niet eens uit elkaar kan houden. De meeste arseenverbindingen zijn echter wél een stuk minder stabiel dan analoge fosforverbindingen, wat het metabolisme van dat gemiddelde organisme danig in de war stuurt. Vandaar dat arseen wordt ervaren als zwaar toxisch.

 

Maar niet door de nieuwe bacterie, die haar metabolisme kennelijk aan de afwijkende chemische evenwichten heeft weten aan te passen. Ze behoort tot de Halomonadaceae en heeft de werktitel GFAJ-1 meegekregen. De onderzoekers vonden haar door slib uit Mono Lake op kweek te zetten, er als voeding alleen arsenaat (AsO43-) bij te doen, en te kijken of er dan nog leven overbleef.

 

De eerste analyses wijzen uit dat GFAJ-1 nog wel een restje fosfor bevat, maar dat haar proteïnen, lipiden en nucleïnezuren inderdaad vol arseen zitten. Andere tests wijzen uit dat beide elementen inderdaad inwisselbaar lijken te zijn: op fosfaat groeit de bacterie ook, en zelfs een stuk sneller.

 

Hoe dit op moleculaire schaal functioneert, moet nog worden uitgezocht.

 

Hier en daar komt de onthulling intussen als een teleurstelling. Rond de ontdekking had NASA een persconferentie georganiseerd, en de aankondiging daarvan was dusdanig verwoord (trefwoord: astrobiologie) dat veel mensen rekenden op iets spectaculairders. Op internet deed het gerucht al de ronde dat NASA leven op een andere planeet had ontdekt.

 

De ontdekking maakt wél de kans een beetje groter dat dat buitenaardse leven inderdaad bestaat. Het bewijst in elk geval dat de klassieke Aardse combinatie van de elementen waterstof, koolstof, zuurstof, stikstof, fosfor en zwavel voor leven niet zo zaligmakend is als iedereen dacht.

 

bron: Arizona State University


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T.Tepper 03/12/2010 22:59

Eindelijk een deskundige reactie op de "Arsenicum-bacterie" . Wilt U dit artikel a.u.b. in ruime mate toe zenden aan de dagbladen en andere media ? Daarmee kan er een einde komen aan de onzinnige speculaties in radio .pers en TV.

vr. groet

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