OK, so there’s a new chapter on the whole #arseniclife story. Redfield has deposited an article in arXiv (and submitted it to Science at the same time) in which she challenges the original claim made by Wolfe-Simon et al1, which is, that there is a bacterium that can incorporate arsenate into its DNA.
This is how she puts it: “Our manuscript reporting the lack of arsenate in the DNA of arsenate-grown GFAJ-1 cells is now available on the arXiv server“.
Felisa Wolfe-Simon (Photo: ZUMA Press)
Notably, through an email, Wolfe-Simon now writes that she “never actually claimed that arsenate was being incorporated in GFAJ-1’s DNA”…. which is, to say the least, weird (just look at the article’s abstract!). See Jonathan Eisen’s post about this.
I applaud the openness of the whole process (see Redfield’s blog), although I’ve always considered that Felicia Wolfe-Simon was treated badly in a somewhat unjustifiable way, and at first, the whole idea of going out of your way (when you don’t work directly in that field, see below) to do a series of experiments (and everything that it implies) to disprove a group (or to do the proper controls, however you want to see it), seemed curious to me, particularly when the funding agencies haven’t given you the money to perform that particular research (which is something she recently acknowledged). But I digress…
Regarding the harsh treatment that Wolfe-Simon has received…. what about all the other authors, all of which are responsible for the manuscript? Apparently, only Wolfe-Simon has been the target of all the criticism and she has stepped up to reply comments and give interviews (See also Redfield’s post about it)
Here’s Larry Moran’s take on this new chapter in the story of one of the most overhyped scientific articles of my time…
Larry Moran: The Arsenic Affair: No Arsenic in DNA!
In any case, I think the matter is far from solved and I’m sure Wolfe-Simon et al will find some problems with Redfield’s approach, which will make this whole story even longer… I’m quite tired of it if you ask me…
1 Wolfe-Simon et al (2010) A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus.Science 332(6034):1163-6