CSAIL Reacts to NASA Press Conference

About 20 CSAIL students, researchers and staff gathered in the Kiva seminar room on Thursday, December 2 to watch NASA’s press conference on astrobiology research that NASA believes challenges fundamental concepts about requirements for life on Earth. Researchers think they have discovered a microorganism that can substitute arsenic for phosphorus and still manage to grow and thrive- a discovery NASA says could open the door to the possibility of new life forms on Earth. Critics counter that NASA has not provided significant evidence to support its findings, and that the microorganism appears to be more of a terrestrial extremophile than a form of alien life.

CSAIL students reacted to the NASA announcement with a mixture of enthusiasm and disappointment.

“I think it’s interesting because it challenges what people viewed as necessary for life,” said Postdoctoral Associate David Hendrix.

Meanwhile, graduate student Benjamin Holmes was excited about the prospect that this new discovery could mean changes in our understanding and study of both DNA and RNA.

For graduate student Robert Altshuler, the announcement was a big disappointment due to its vagueness and lack of concrete evidence.

Postdoctoral Fellow Stefan Washietl summed up the sentiments well, saying, “We need the data.”

Professor of Biological Engineering and Computer Science Bruce Tidor agreed, expressing his desire to see NASA’s follow-up work on the subject.

Abby Abazorius, CSAIL