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NASA finds unprecedented arsenic-based bacteria

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amny Credit: Getty Images

It may be the closest thing NASA has found to E.T.

The U.S. space agency announced Thursday that it found bacteria in a California lake that live on arsenic, something that has never been seen before in life on Earth.

The microbe not only eats arsenic, but incorporates the notoriously toxic element directly into their DNA, the researchers said. It was found after two years of study at California’s Mono Lake.

“We have cracked open the door to what is possible for life elsewhere in the universe,” said study leader Felisa Wolfe-Simon of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

This is the first time scientists have found life that isn’t sustained by a combination of the same six elements: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur and phosphorous. Rather, the new bacteria, the GFAJ-1 strain of the Halomonadaceae, showed little need for phosphorous.

Researchers said the bacteria isn’t a new life form, but it does suggest that astrobiologists looking for life on other planets shouldn’t look only at those with the same elements as Earth.

“Our findings are a reminder that life-as-we-know-it could be much more flexible than we generally assume or can imagine,” Wolfe-Simon said.

(Reuters contributed to this story.)

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