Chemical bond shields extreme microbes from poison | Science News


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Chemical bond shields extreme microbes from poison

Molecular structure explains how ‘arsenic life’ bacteria rely on phosphate instead

2:03pm, October 3, 2012

Hardy bacteria that live in an arsenic bath survive in part by keeping poison from entering their cells, scientists have found. Just one tiny tweak in a hydrogen bond is enough to let the microbes pick out the phosphate they need to build their DNA — while keeping the arsenic out.

The work helps explain how famous bacteria in the arsenic-rich waters of Mono Lake, Calif., manage to live there without incorporating arsenic into their DNA, as a controversial 2010 paper had claimed (SN: 2/25/12, p. 10).

“It goes to show that life will find a way,” says Matthew Pasek, a geochemist at the University of South Florida who was not involved in the new study.

The discovery may also open new ways to deliver substances into a cell that are wanted, like drugs, while keeping unwanted stuff out. “The best way of avoiding poison is not to take it, and this is like the first defense mechanism,”

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