0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

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Sundew
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Sundew » Fri Dec 03, 2010 9:55 am UTC

For those of you with a biology-related degree, I'd heavily suggest reading the research article if you have access to the original source--it's quite brief but fascinating nonetheless. Regardless, this has to be my favourite comic within the past year.

Hilarious.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby plotza » Fri Dec 03, 2010 9:58 am UTC

elpinguino wrote:I'm impressed by the correct use of the "œ" ligature in hors d'œuvres. (Way to go the extra kilometre.)


I was about to point the same issue: hors-d'œuvre is badly misspelled as hors d'œrves, but at least the ligature is correct.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby meatyochre » Fri Dec 03, 2010 9:58 am UTC

What did the pirate say when the ninja asked him about amino acids at Mono Lake?

Yarrrsenic.
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Ghona » Fri Dec 03, 2010 10:02 am UTC

atomfullerene wrote:The implications of this ARE pretty cool, because they imply that every bit of phosphorous was replaced by arsenic. DNA with arsenic. ATA (adenosine triarsenate), arsenolipids, arsenolation. It's one thing to replace one of these components with arsenic, and use the rest of the cell's machinery to counteract the chemical changes, but replacing all of them...well it's amazing. And DNA is important, but ATP and other phosphor compounds are fundamental to almost anything requiring energy in the cell. And phospholipids are a whole different kind of molecule that would have to be successfully replaced.

Not as cool as a shadow biosphere with a second origin, or life on Titan, but still pretty neat. And yes, was amused by the comic.


All of the phosphorous wasn't replaced. Only a fraction thereof.
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Doom Shepherd » Fri Dec 03, 2010 10:19 am UTC

New weird life, and dead journalists. EPIC WIN!

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Red Hal » Fri Dec 03, 2010 10:25 am UTC

The whole thing has even more humour potential in British English as we generally refer to the posterior as 'arse' instead of 'ass'.
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby thevicente » Fri Dec 03, 2010 11:28 am UTC

I heard about the discovery in the morning news, and the journalist sounded disappointed as expected, reminding me of http://xkcd.com/465/ -- Quantum Teleportation.

With that in mind, I realized it is Friday and went to xkcd.com.

And of course LOL'd literally.

Then I thought the dead journalists were alive on the tv and so they must be from a parallel universe. Or they're zombies. I don't know, my head exploded. But the comic is good.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Technical Ben » Fri Dec 03, 2010 11:35 am UTC

Am I the only one who thinks the reporters would survive well in a arsenic rich environment? Or am I thinking of lawyers?
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby melthengylf » Fri Dec 03, 2010 12:18 pm UTC

Cool joke! Funny and amusing!

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ModestMouse
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby ModestMouse » Fri Dec 03, 2010 12:49 pm UTC

LOL! Good one and not a lot of rocket power needed to get it either this early in the morning :D

ehow.com. HAHA!

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby dp2 » Fri Dec 03, 2010 1:35 pm UTC

superglucose wrote:Unsurprising news is unsurprising. It turns out this is the result of a theory and an experiment that were conducted years ago. Cool, but not revolutionary.

You do know that a hypothesis is not in itself proof of anything, right?

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meat.paste
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby meat.paste » Fri Dec 03, 2010 1:52 pm UTC

I literally LOLed on this one. As noted before, timely and damn funny.

As a bonus, I now understand how arsenic disrupts the cellular mechanisms.

Finally,
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:I found this actually laugh-out-loud funny; the title text, however, reminded me of this seminal paper on the trapezoid method for integration.

It amazes me how some will go gaga over a common idea transplanted into a new field. What really amazes me is the medical professionals involved should have taken calculus as part of their education. Sigh. What depresses me is the statement in the abstract on how this 'new' method gives results within +/- 0.4% of the traditional methods and also slams how traditional methods can give very large errors.
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby phred20910 » Fri Dec 03, 2010 2:23 pm UTC

Reporters could survive in an arsenic-rich environment, but they'd have to build up to it. And they might end up with an increased incidence of diabetes. See Medline PMID 8154472. Probably not worth the effort.

Trust me: I'm a medical librarian.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Sprocket » Fri Dec 03, 2010 2:49 pm UTC

There's a very different feeling to this comic, possibly the drawing style?...hmmmm.
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby squall_line » Fri Dec 03, 2010 2:50 pm UTC

The Kedge wrote:At least according to mainstream media and popular science news outfits. Dunno yet exactly how the media mucked this one up but I've no doubt they did.


You mean like this? :)

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Boreeas » Fri Dec 03, 2010 2:55 pm UTC

Great comic! :D

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Econ » Fri Dec 03, 2010 3:23 pm UTC

This comic highlights the need for an upranking system for the comics themselves.

God, that was funny. I would +2 if I were able.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby alexriehl » Fri Dec 03, 2010 3:32 pm UTC

Heh. Haha. I wonder how frequently a great scientific discovery is ruined because reporters annoy the scientist. *sigh*
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby seyruun » Fri Dec 03, 2010 3:58 pm UTC

Apparently the reporters still didn't get it. My professor just spent half an hour of his lecture on astrobiology and astrophysiks laughing about all the reporters that called him this morning trying to find out whether they could write about extraterrestrial life.. still, the discovery is very cool! And I love the comic as usual.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby udqbpn » Fri Dec 03, 2010 4:16 pm UTC

Ghona wrote:
atomfullerene wrote:The implications of this ARE pretty cool, because they imply that every bit of phosphorous was replaced by arsenic. DNA with arsenic. ATA (adenosine triarsenate), arsenolipids, arsenolation. It's one thing to replace one of these components with arsenic, and use the rest of the cell's machinery to counteract the chemical changes, but replacing all of them...well it's amazing. And DNA is important, but ATP and other phosphor compounds are fundamental to almost anything requiring energy in the cell. And phospholipids are a whole different kind of molecule that would have to be successfully replaced.

Not as cool as a shadow biosphere with a second origin, or life on Titan, but still pretty neat. And yes, was amused by the comic.


All of the phosphorous wasn't replaced. Only a fraction thereof.


Actually I'm pretty sure they DID replace ALL phosphorous. I mean, they basically gave the microbes zero phosphorous and they were still able to reproduce themselves just fine. From the article on nasa.gov: "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."

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Dinoguy1000 » Fri Dec 03, 2010 4:54 pm UTC

evenstar wrote:I laughed aloud. Ok, more like chuckled.

Dinoguy1000 wrote:*wonders if arsenic-based hors d'oeuvres would taste like almonds*


As far as I remember, arsenic has a sweet taste, and doesn't hurt the throat. Hence, an ideal poison.


I was thinking of cyanide when I wrote that (as serrath pointed out); I didn't know (generally speaking, not in reference to my previous statement) that arsenic had any flavor.
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Mattman » Fri Dec 03, 2010 5:06 pm UTC

Wow, an xkcd about where I work! But I'm curious how Randall knew this last night. They only just had their results published today.

He either knows someone at SLAC, someone at Science Magazine, or he knows the future.

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squall_line
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby squall_line » Fri Dec 03, 2010 5:13 pm UTC

Mattman wrote:He either knows someone at SLAC, someone at Science Magazine, or he knows the future.


The press release went out and the announcement was made yesterday, on Thursday. And the NASA press release this past Monday about the upcoming press release mentioned that the announcement was planned for Thursday, Dec 2.

Which also explains why the comic presents a Press Conference scenario, since the NASA Press Conference took place yesterday.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby dp2 » Fri Dec 03, 2010 5:16 pm UTC

Mattman wrote:Wow, an xkcd about where I work! But I'm curious how Randall knew this last night. They only just had their results published today.

He either knows someone at SLAC, someone at Science Magazine, or he knows the future.

The press conference was at 2pm EST yesterday (Thursday, Dec 2).

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby neoliminal » Fri Dec 03, 2010 5:23 pm UTC

Mazuku wrote:Someone poisoned their arsenic...



hahahahahha..... poor microbes died.
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby tastethesun » Fri Dec 03, 2010 5:42 pm UTC

dp2 wrote:
superglucose wrote:Unsurprising news is unsurprising. It turns out this is the result of a theory and an experiment that were conducted years ago. Cool, but not revolutionary.

You do know that a hypothesis is not in itself proof of anything, right?


I think he might be stuck in Monday's comic.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby correnos » Fri Dec 03, 2010 7:20 pm UTC

Comic was great, alt-text was funny, and weird arsenic microbes are weird. And arsenic.

To be scientifically rigorous, the scientists in charge of this study would obviously have to expose humans to the same conditions, but for some reason I can't find any results relating to this sort of test. Odd.

Also, for some reason the alt-text really reminded me of this comic.
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby KiaserZohsay » Fri Dec 03, 2010 7:57 pm UTC

Personally, I try to avoid any cocktail recipes that call for Kool-Aid.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby davidhbrown » Fri Dec 03, 2010 10:06 pm UTC

meat.paste wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:[...] this seminal paper on the trapezoid method for integration.

[...]What depresses me is the statement in the abstract on how this 'new' method gives results within +/- 0.4% of the traditional methods and also slams how traditional methods can give very large errors.

My spouse -- now a professor herself -- has on a couple occasions related how some of *her* professors would calculate the area under a curve by very carefully cutting it out of a sheet of paper and weighing it on a precision balance, comparing it to a rectangle of known area cut from a similar sheet/axes!

To be a little bit kind to the journal that published that, they were talking about analyzing raw data... it's not like they have a function to work from that they can integrate. And their readers aren't totally clueless... a few months later they published a letter "Tai's formula is the trapezoidal rule."

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby bmonk » Fri Dec 03, 2010 10:12 pm UTC

evenstar wrote:I laughed aloud. Ok, more like chuckled.

Dinoguy1000 wrote:*wonders if arsenic-based hors d'oeuvres would taste like almonds*


As far as I remember, arsenic has a sweet taste, and doesn't hurt the throat. Hence, an ideal poison.

Except it is rather slow, or needs to be taken in large quantities.
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Eebster the Great » Sat Dec 04, 2010 12:14 am UTC

davidhbrown wrote:To be a little bit kind to the journal that published that, they were talking about analyzing raw data... it's not like they have a function to work from that they can integrate. And their readers aren't totally clueless... a few months later they published a letter "Tai's formula is the trapezoidal rule."

But it was still a purely mathematical result that has been known for over three hundred years presented as a new scientific finding.

And look at how many times that paper was cited.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Amarantha » Sat Dec 04, 2010 1:02 am UTC

This comic reminded me to go check the news for the NASA announcement. Xkcd - now updating current events as well as entertaining.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby DakkonA » Sat Dec 04, 2010 1:04 am UTC

udqbpn wrote:
Ghona wrote:All of the phosphorous wasn't replaced. Only a fraction thereof.


Actually I'm pretty sure they DID replace ALL phosphorous. I mean, they basically gave the microbes zero phosphorous and they were still able to reproduce themselves just fine. From the article on nasa.gov: "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."


All of the phosphorous in the media was replaced, but all of their experiments still showed at least some phosphorous in the biomolecules. Essentially what it comes down to is that they have X-ray spectra showing As-O and As-O-C bonding, As that is tightly associated with the DNA and other biomolecules from mass spectroscopy data, and it grows in As+/P-, which still has traces of phosphorous, but not in As-/P-, showing that those traces of phosphorous aren't sufficient for growth.

So it's a pretty strong case that a good portion of the cell has replaced phosphorous with arsenic, but it remains to be seen exactly how it is able to do this, to what extent it can do this (e.g. is some phosphorous still required to be around that it conserves somehow?), and how much it does this in its natural habitat.

The paper is nice, though it does seem a bit rushed and could use some polishing and language clarity.

And when I first saw the comic it was just the image. I thought they had just overdone it and got everyone drunk. Then I came here and saw the real title text and laughed. Well played, Randall.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Garnasha » Sat Dec 04, 2010 2:39 am UTC

First off: Great comic, great timing. About the arsenic working fast: It could've worked as fast as the scientists wanted it to, they must've just added rat poison to their food, based on two reasons this comic wouldn't work with food grown with As instead of P. Reason 1: Our food consists of eukaryotes, and I don't expect they'll accomplish anything near as freaky as what those bacteria did. Reason 2: Even if you worked around that by using prokaryotes as food or miraculously getting eukaryotes to mimic the trick, one occasion eating hors d'œuvres from arsenic organisms wouldn't just kill slow, it probably wouldn't kill at all, the dose'd be too low.

Reasoning (written while thinking, not necessarily pleasant to read but too tired to fix it):
If the scientists were true to the theme and used organisms which incorporated As into their molecules to replace missing P, I guess it depends mostly on how much of the cell is membrane+DNA+RNA, by mass. First google hit puts the lower bound on LD50 after 4 hours on 120mg. If you were to eat 120g of arsenic eukaryote (I don't think I know of anything we (or journalists) consider to be food with bacteria or archaea as main component), 0.1% of it would have to be arsenic by mass. Would you reach that?

Water contains no phosphorus, and I don't think triglycerides do either, though now that I've said that there's bound to be some wacky fatty acid with a phosphate group attached out there. Not the way my life works, the way biology works: If we can think of it, and can't think of a good reason for it not to exist (and often even when we can think of such a reason), it has a good chance of existing or having existed. Anyway, so fats are out, so are most proteins, I'm certain there are proteins out there which use a phosphorus as part of their structure to get something done, but as a rule proteins contain the same elements as their constituent amino acids: H, C, N, O, S. So, the only major cell components I can think of containing P to be replaced with As are the phospholipids forming the membrane, the DNA in the nucleus and RNA used for various purposes around the cell, most (all I can think of right now) to do with protein synthesis. So we're looking for a small cell, for a lot of membrane per weight (lots of folds on internal membranes are usually accompanied by a lot of activity) filled with DNA and next to nothing else for maximum P or As content. Rotifer in cryptobiosis?

Of course, there's also the matter of the buggers who can do this being bacteria (and would that be actual bacteria or archaea?), which have a reputation for doing stuff eukaryotes can only dream of. And neither bacteria nor cryptobiotic rotifers are major ingredients for mainstream hors d'œuvres. So you'd have to resort to adding the arsenic in more traditional ways. Which is just as well, because I'm none too sure if bound arsenic would retain its toxicity. Tends to take the punch out of aggressive chemicals. *looks it up* According to Wikipedia, organic arsenic is 500 times less harmful than the inorganic variety.


And related to the list of biomolecules (+water) which do or don't contain P to be replaced with As:
meatyochre wrote:What did the pirate say when the ninja asked him about ribonucleïc acids at Mono Lake?

Yarrrsenic.
FTFY

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby bnel07 » Sat Dec 04, 2010 7:30 am UTC

BRILLIANT!!!

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Noblesaur » Sat Dec 04, 2010 10:24 am UTC

Pretty quick turnaround guys. Also, funny as all hell.

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konaya
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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby konaya » Sat Dec 04, 2010 6:45 pm UTC

Is is just me, or is the text in this strip slightly less legible than average?

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Eebster the Great » Sat Dec 04, 2010 9:31 pm UTC

Garnasha wrote:ribonucleïc

wat

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby Falos » Sat Dec 04, 2010 9:37 pm UTC

The throatclutcher and his pose really made the last panel great for me. Also, hooray for big scientific discoveries!

konaya wrote:Is is just me, or is the text in this strip slightly less legible than average?

Different pen, running out of ink maybe, image downscaled perhaps.

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Re: 0829: "Arsenic-Based Life"

Postby littlewing » Sun Dec 05, 2010 12:19 pm UTC

It's spelled "hors d'œuvre". Just sayin'. Funny as hell though. As always.


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