What could arsenic bacteria teach us about life?

Biology and Philosophy 28 (2):205-218 (2013)
In this paper, I discuss the recent discovery of alleged arsenic bacteria in Mono Lake, California, and the ensuing debate in the scientific community about the validity and significance of these results. By situating this case in the broader context of projects that search for anomalous life forms, I examine the methodology and upshots of challenging biochemical constraints on living things. I distinguish between a narrower and a broader sense in which we might challenge or change our knowledge of life as the result of such a project, and discuss two different kinds of projects that differ in their potential to overhaul our knowledge of life. I argue that the arsenic bacteria case, while potentially illuminating, is the kind of constraint-challenging project that could not—in spite of what was said when it was presented to the public—change our knowledge of life in the deeper sense
Keywords Arsenic bacteria  Life  Weird life  Biochemical constraints  Origin of life
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-012-9338-y
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