Arsenic can replace phosphorous in biological systems

This was a cool study that Connor K. brought to my attention winter term.  I thought it bears being posted so it can be referred to again.  It is amazing, although not surprising given arsenate has a similar molecular structure to phosphate, that arsenic-eating microbes in a lake rich in arsenic content was found to incorporate that arsenic in biological macromolecules where phosphate would normally be found.  This includes proteins, lipids, metabolites such as ATP, and the nucleic acids of RNA and DNA.  Researchers added radio-labelled arsenate to solution containing microbes collected from Mono Lake in California to track its distribution, and found the amounts of arsenate detected were similar to those expected of phosphate in normal cell biochemistry, suggesting that the compound was being used in the same way by the cell. If you check out arsenic’s position, it is just two spots down from phosphorus, giving it the same role in chemical reactions. Cool.  Does this mean that phosphorus is required for life?  What about carbon or nitrogen?

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