We’re counting down the three biggest science stories of the year, based not only on how they impact science but how they can be used in science fiction. These choices are, of course, only my opinion and I welcome comments from anyone who disagrees.
In the beginning of December, NASA teased us with promises of a press conference on astrobiology. It turned out they’d discovered some new bacteria in California that use arsenic (instead of phosphorus) as a nutrient.
Following the announcement, questions quickly arose about these bacteria. Did they actually incorporate arsenic into their biochemistry, or did they simply survive on what little phosphorus they could get? Further research is required.
Despite concerns about the validity of this discovery, the “arsenic eaters” show that alternative biologies are possible. No one seems to disagree that some organism somewhere could replace phosphorus with arsenic; they only doubt whether or not this particular species has done so. That’s good to know if you’re a science fiction writer. Maybe there are arsenic-based aliens. And if that’s possible, than silicon-based life could exist as well.