The World Around You
Mountain Views News Saturday, December 11, 2010
12 THE WORLD AROUND YOU Mountain Views News Saturday, December 11, 2010 Discovery of Arsenic-Based Life on Earth Could Widen Search for Extraterrestrials Astrobiology research announced by NASA Dec. 2 may change our fundamental concept of what constitutes all known life on Earth— and is causing astronomers to broaden their thought of what life elsewhere may be. Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism appears to substitute arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components. “The definition of life has just expanded,” said Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it.” If further research confirms the NASA team’s work, this finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup could alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth. The research is published in last week’s edition of Science Express. Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur are the six basic building blocks of all known forms of life on Earth. Phosphorus is part of the chemical backbone of DNA and RNA, the structures that carry genetic instructions for life, and is considered an essential element for all living cells. Phosphorus is a central component of the energy-carrying molecule in all cells (adenosine triphosphate) and also the phospholipids that form all cell membranes. Arsenic, which is chemically similar to phosphorus, is poisonous for most life on Earth. Arsenic disrupts metabolic pathways because chemically it behaves similarly to phosphate. “We know that some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we’ve found is a microbe doing something new—building parts of itself out of arsenic,” said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA astrobiology research fellow in residence at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., and the research team’s lead scientist. “If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven’t seen yet?” “Toxicity, I think, is in the eye of the beholder,” she added. The newly discovered microbe, strain GFAJ-1, is a member of a common group of bacteria, the Gammaproteobacteria. In the laboratory, the researchers successfully grew microbes from the lake on a diet that was very lean on phosphorus, but included generous helpings of arsenic. When researchers removed the phosphorus and replaced it with arsenic, the microbes continued to grow. Subsequent analyses indicated that the arsenic was being used to produce the building blocks of new GFAJ-1 cells. The key issue the researchers investigated was this: When the microbe was grown on arsenic, did the arsenic actually become incorporated into the organisms’ vital biochemical machinery, such as DNA, proteins and the cell membranes? A variety of sophisticated laboratory techniques were used to determine where the arsenic was being incorporated. The team chose to explore Mono Lake because of its unusual chemistry, especially its high salinity, high alkalinity, and high levels of arsenic. This chemistry is in part a result of Mono Lake’s isolation from its sources of fresh water for the past 50 years. The results of this study could inform ongoing research in many areas, including the study of Earth’s evolution, organic chemistry, biogeochemical cycles, disease mitigation and Earth system research. What about the impact on astronomy? To date, more than 500 planets have been found orbiting stars other than the Sun, and more are being announced every week. These possible habitats are being intensely studied to find conditions hospitable to life similar to our own. “The biggest impact the Mono Lake findings may have is to remove a bit of limiting prejudice from our thinking about life in the Universe,” said Laurance Doyle, who studies potential habitats for extraterrestrial life with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. You can contact Bob Eklund at: b.eklund@MtnViewsNews.com. Felisa Wolfe-Simon processing mud from Mono Lake to inoculate media to grow microbes on arsenic. Image Credit: Henry Bortman Ask jai…… It would be really hard for anyone who even only occasionally glances at the news every now and then to not have heard about Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange by now. Just in case you do happen to be one of the few people who haven’t heard of it by now, here’s the short version. Wikileaks is a website that has made its reputation by publishing information that comes to its attention by way of anonymous news sources and leaks. Although this may seem like a very peculiar way to run a so-called news organization one would have to take a good look at the types of news items that the Wikileaks website publishes. One of the sites biggest stories can be found on YouTube by searching for the video “Collateral Murder – Wikileaks – Iraq”. If you do choose to watch the 17-minute video you will see US forces engaging a dozen people from an AC-130 gunship. As you might expect this type of thing happens frequently in a war zone. Wikileaks released this story in April 2010 and it proved quite tragic for the fact that a Reuters reporter friendly to US interests was killed in the attack and it proved embarrassing for the US war effort due to the accompanying soundtrack that featured the in-cockpit voice traffic as it occurred during the attack. This story would’ve never seen the light of day had it not been for Wikileaks. Supporters of the site and its mission argue that the mainstream media has become beholden to powerful corporate interests and that the news as it’s currently presented to the public and has become nothing more than corporate-sponsored PR and that the information needed by people in order to make sense of the world they live in is just not getting through. Opponents of Wikileaks have argued that the site and its mission pose a grave threat to national security and must be shut down at any cost and its founder severely punished for publishing sensitive information that has the potential to endanger US interests as well as those of governments around the globe. Actors on both sides of the Wikileaks argument have taken concrete steps in support of their position and are determined to either support or shut down Wikileaks. Mr. Assange is currently facing charges in Sweden that may or may not have been motivated by his activities for Wikileaks. An underground cyber-group named “Anonymous” has been staging cyber- attacks against business and government entities currently pursuing Mr. Assange. Whatever the outcome of all of this high-stakes drama the news as we now know and (dis)trust it will never be the same. So….what side are you on? Ask jai is a weekly column that will strive to honestly answer your job search questions relating to job searching techniques, networking skills, resume writing and interviewing. The employment situation is getting better, however, it is still a challenge finding were the jobs are located and how to get pass the “gate-keepers”. As an Executive Recruiter I was privy to working directly with Corporate Recruiters and understanding their process in selecting which candidates to interview and hire. I will candidly answer your questions, possibly bluntly answering you questions, but I will be totally honest. My objective is to help you achieve your employment goal. PICK A SIDE Q: My boyfriend has been unemployed for 5 months. He is very depressed about the job market and his future at finding employment. He only finds and applies for jobs on-line. I am trying to encourage him to start networking and attending holiday parties and mixers this December. He told me that December is a very slow month for employment and employers do not hire during the holiday time. He feels attending these events is a waste of his time. We are getting invitations to a lot of holiday parties and mixers. I think he or we should attend every event. What do you think he should do? Zoe Dear Zoe: It is a myth that employers do not screen, interview or hire at this time of the year. Employers in fact do hire during the holiday season. Anxious employers use the last month of the year to meet their budget and head-count. Head-count is the number of employees that employers and their departments projected to have on their payroll by year-end. If they do not meet their head-count, the budgets and number of employees are usually reduced for the following year. Sorry to say, most job seekers feel the same way your boy friend does about looking for employment during the month of December. Therefore, I encourage job seekers to become more aggressive at this time because their competition is taking a break. This is not the time for your boy friend to stop seeking employment, feel he is wasting his time or feel ashamed that he is unemployed. He is one in a million looking for a job. He should accept all invitations and attend every holiday event possible this month. December is a great month to meet and connect with new people, former co-workers, friends and family. I find that people are more open during the Holiday Season to helping others. It is appropriate and acceptable to use these events as an opportunity to let people know that you are seeking employment. Your boyfriend should take advantage of holiday parties by introducing himself and developing a network of contacts. I suggest he create a personal business card that includes his name and contact information to hand out at these events. He should initiate the conversation by introducing himself and asking the other person about their profession or line of work. This will open it up the conversation for him to discuss his employment status, describe his professional background, what type of work he is looking for, and ask them to contact him if they should hear of any positions. He should get their contact information and in return offer his assistance to them. Continue to encourage your boyfriend to socialize, attend parties and mixer, and to network for job opportunities. Your boyfriend is fortunate you are supporting and encouraging him. Family and friends are a key element to job seekers staying focus and on track. Tis the season to help one another. Everything you ever wanted to know about how to find a job…but didn’t know who to ask. ASK jai. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org Risque‘LINGERIE BOUTIQUE1045 E. 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Or maybe that the Chocolate Barge from your aunt was something a client gave her. Maybe you’ve never regifted anything, and if that’s the case, I tip my hat to you. When we receive something we don’t need or want, our first instinct is to toss it along like a hot potato. Outside of the heartfelt presents exchanged among loved ones and dear friends, so much of our gift giving is merely obligatory gestures we perform like automatons to the dictates of the calendar. It is the thought that counts, and I’m honestly just as happy with a greeting card as I am with a Starbucks card. I wish we could all simply circulate sincere notes of thanks to the people we appreciate. Even when a harmonious balance like this exists, some well-intentioned person has to go and up the ante by giving something tangible. This necessitates that the recipient respond in kind, unless they want to come off as a schmo. Although inherently tacky, regifting makes a lot of sense. Especially in this economy, if you’ve been dealt a regiftable present (chocolates, bath products, coffee/tea collections) it’s very tempting to save a buck by utilizing this item to fulfill your gesture to someone else. So, regifting is sometimes allowable, but there are ground rules you need to follow. First, never regift something from someone you’re deeply close to (If you need to hear this, you’re beyond grasping its meaning). It’s okay to pass along ceramic snowmen figurines from the coworker in another department to your neighbor down the block. It’s not okay to regift anything someone made for you personally. You’d look stupid trying to pawn off a glass mug engraved with “To my friend, Wendy” or hand knit mittens bearing your initials. Second, never regift in the same context. For example, if a coworker gives you something, don’t turn around and give it to another coworker! The first thing she’ll probably say is “Gee, Gloria just gave me Bath & Body Works lotion, too! I guess great minds thinks alike!” Instead, regift your soulless lotion to a distant relative or marginal acquaintance. Gift cards are the ultimate regiftable gift. How much more impersonal can you get? I remember having lunch around the holidays with a girl I didn’t know very well. When we opened our gift bags we realized we exchanged gift cards of the same denomination for different stores. I felt like laughing and saying, “Tell you what, you keep your 20 bucks and I’ll keep mine!” The most honorable ways of dealing with unwanted regiftable items are to donate them to a charity or leave them in the break room at work (as long as the gifts weren’t from a coworker). If you do regift, it’s polite to provide a disclaimer as you offer the recycled item to it’s next recipient. “Someone at work gave this to me and I really have no use for it. If you don’t want it I totally understand!” Of course you can always keep your regiftable gifts. But if you do this consistently, you might run into a situation I addressed in an earlier column –garage sale!