NASA Discovers New Type Of Life – Draws Comparison To Star Trek’s Horta

Today NASA held a press conference where they disclosed the discovery of a microbe (on Earth) that can swap what was believed to be an essential element of life, for a toxic chemical. And during the press conference, one of the NASA scientists drew a comparison to the Horta from Star Trek.

NASA discovers life NOT as we know it – draws comparison to Star Trek’s Horta

NASA has discovered a new life form, called GFAJ-1, which is different than all other life on the planet. So far it has been understood that all life is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. But this new microorganism found in Mono Lake, California is able to substitute the poisonous element arsenic for phosphorus.

This clip (via NBC) from today’s NASA newsconference explains the finding in more detail…

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This is an important step for those searching for life, as noted in the NASA press release:

"The definition of life has just expanded," said Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. "As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it."

Essentially NASA has discovered a strange new life form, which is very Star Trek. In an interview discussing the finding , NASA molecular biologist Steven Benner, explained the discovery using a Star Trek analogy:

“When we’re searching for alien life, if it’s not a Ferengi from Star Trek, what would it be?” Benner asked In his estimation, we’ve always defined life as something that has the exact same chemistry as a life-form on Earth. The new discovery will likely change that equation, because it means the basic building blocks of DNA are not quite what we thought.

Benner, said the arsenic-loving organism at Mono Lake grew without high levels of the nutrient phosphate (although some phosphates were still present). Just as important, it could change how we look for alien life on other planets, especially on Saturn and the moons of Jupiter.

But the Trek connection didn’t end there. Today NASA held a one hour news conference to discuss the finding. During the Q&A Mary Voytek, director of NASA’s Astrobiology Program, drew a comparison to Star Trek to explain why this was big news:

This is a phenomenal finding. We are talking about taking the fundamental building blocks of life and replacing one of them with an unusual, perhaps not unpredicted, but another compound. In our mind this is the equivalent, and some of us remember seeing the original Star Trek episodes, but of  ["Devil in the Dark"] and the Horta. This in our mind is the equivalent of finding that Horta which is a silicon based life, substituting carbon, which is what we think all life forms are made of, with silica. Now we are talking about an organism that we think we are talking about an organism that, if not replacing all of it, appears to be using another fundamental component of life. The story is not entirely carbon. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and the other essential elements–it is replacing arsenic for phosphorus. This is a huge deal.

Voytek was referring to the shambling rock creatures discovered by miners on Janus VI. Here is the scene from "Devil in the Dark" where Spock explains (using language similar to NASA’s press release) his theory on how the Horta may not be carbon-based.

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Decloaking . . .
sayeth the microbes
Recloaking }:-D>

I watched this live on the site. It just shows that life will always find a way.

If there’s a bacteria here on Earth that can process arsenic, I’m sure there’s something like the Horta in the universe.

Decloaking . . .
I’ll say it again, given the temps and PSI and now arsenic consuming environments that Extremeophiles have been found in . . . it’s time to take a fresh look a Venus for life.
Recloaking. }:-D>

Decloaking . . .
“All hail TOG,” the bacteria shout after an arsenic bender.
Recloaking. }:-D>

Well doesn’t that just make my biology class seem utterly pointless.

#5: Quplah, to you General Martok, I hope you will forgive my less then perfect spelling of your native tongue. I am currently trying to major in biology, and my first major biology class is kicking my butt. So…Here’s to one day being able to say that all the answers are correct on my multiple choice final exam. LOL.

Truly amazing. Life must exist everywhere in ways we can’t yet comprehend.

Now all we need is for these microbes to send us a radio message calling us “ugly bags of mostly water”.

43 years later and Star Trek TOS is still breaking new ground.

Hey. Maybe Gene himself was actualy a Organian. How else could he have made Trek so ahead of our time. What with all the things we see on Tos being done today. Nah. Couldn’t be. But maybe as Kirk Said. Life is but a dream.

No surprise about the comparison to infamous Trek alien there…

…Horta to have seen that comin’ a mile off…

…………………………………………..ooooooooooooooh that was bad…………

I have always tried to explain to folks that
LIFE is created from somewhere, and once
it is created, it will find a way to adapt and
thrive in its environment, wherever that
may be. Just because humans would not
be able to survive on Pluto, doesn’t mean
something else couldn’t.

The Universe is endless & infinite. There is no
end to it. To not believe that some other life
exist somewhere out there is….well…naive.

@ 7. Ringo Starr – December 2, 2010

Are you actually Ringo or just a fan of him?

The pizza monster in that episode (AKA the Horta) was a relative of the Gorn, both of them being men in rather unrealistic rubber suits. But both episodes were so effective at communicating their themes that they have become among the most memorable from TOS. As such they’re both testaments to the value of good ideas and imagination over technology and material things in general.

In related news, the European Space Agency discovered life based on Old Lace.

Will you be performing here all week?

Wow … the new possibilities of life … we are getting ready for it? … Star Trek is definitely impressive! …. we’ll get there someday! … well I don’t unfortunately! :-)

Are we ready for this? … Correcting! :-)


Interestingly, the head scientist’s name is Mortimer. And there are rumors he has a brother who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt and another brother who looks like Frankenstein. A very odd family if you ask me.

It’s life, Jim. But not as we know it.

#10–nah…not an Organian, perhaps a time agent from the 29th century …or maybe the Bajoran Prophets arranged for his birth; perhaps The Great Bird of the Galaxy didn’t die, but us in the Celestial Temple now, a Supreme Irony given that he hated religion. Or maybe we’re just all some game conjured by Q to entertain his son LOL hence the Life Is But A Dream thing LOL

pardon my typo; was meant to be IS, not us LOL

And who wrote “Devil in the Dark” again?

Gene L. Coon!

Shatner’s favorite episode.


Shatner’s favorite episode was actually “City On The Edge Of Forever”.
I think “Devil In The Dark” was one of Leonard Nimoy’s favorite since the episode contained his favorite “Kirk-Spock-McCoy” scene.

“Gentlemen, I see no reason why I shall stand here and allow myself to be humiliated!”

I think that was how the line went.

But “Devil In The Dark” may have been the episode William Shatner was working on when he suffered his mother’s death and he was grateful for Leonard Nimoy’s support and is when their friendship blossomed. I could be wrong, but I think that is how it went.

Leonard Nimoy counts “The Devil in the Dark” among his very favorite episodes as well. It is an excellent episode with a lot to say about tolerance and understanding “The Other’s” point of view.


Proof that indeed, an adversary need not always be a clear-cut, black and white villain with revenge as the motive. Sometimes the most compelling “enemies” are the misunderstood “friends”, such as the Horta.

no shit i.


Guessing Nasa is getting desperate for more funding.

#29: That was a rather cynical comment.

This is exciting news and implications are earth-shattering!!! I have no doubt there is life of some form on nearly every planet in our solar system.

But not life as we now it, Jim (nor did I say intelligent, but then there is none of that here currently).


I think as our understanding of life increases, we will be re-examining and re-evaluating our old biology standards quite often.

Interesting comment above about re-examining Venus as a potential abode of life; extreme heat, pressure and sulfuric acid rain may be paradise for some hearty as yet-totally-unknown class of extremophile organisms….


Whatever we do, we better not let it escape from the lab!
It could mutate and wreck havoc!

It said, “No kill I”!

#31… perhaps Venusian see Terrans as “extremophiles”? We live on a terribly cold, wet planet with a marginal atmosphere…and it rotates BACKWARDS!! From a certain point of view. :)

30# It was cynical.

Tell me the earth shattering implications that changes anything we may believed before.

The idea that life may exist elsewhere is generally excepted and was before today.

No signs of life on the moon or mars and not likely on other planets in our solar system.

Remember the rock from mars that surfaced at a time Nasa were about to have funding pulled. Nothing came of it long term, just a means to an end.

Thats the big mistake that invalidates astrobiology and validates xenobiology.

There have been many books around for decades that demonstrate this, now NASA is jut catching up?

Hey NASA, pick up a copy of “What does a Martian look like?” by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart and get a clue.

Keith Olbermann did a story on this last night and corrected the NASA scientist who got the name of the story wrong. It’s “Devil in the Dark.” And he gave a Vulcan salute, talked about phaser settings etc. And his inteview subject Derrick Pitts talked about shifting frequencies, ala how to kill Borg. So we know three news commentators are Trekkers. Stephen Colber, Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann. I’ve linked his story below, it as features clips from other sci-fi movies along with Star Trek.

*Adopts Kent Brockman voice*

“I for one welcome our new Arsenic Microbe Overlords.”

Commodore Lurker

Dude, no offense but the whole “decloaking” shtick is getting pretty old.


Ha Ha…Had to be said! Thanks for the laugh!

Well we realy can’t rely on man-made dogma about life. Because there is a lot to be discovered,here and out there. During God’s creative process do we know all that He made. No we’ve a long way to go in discovering all that’s in this wondrous universe of ours.frankly this is exciting! And no biology is not pointless, just needs to be updated. 50 years ago who ever heard of DNA the building blocks of life. Now we are going to discover diverse DNA. For example maybe silicon based! Or other orders of life. We are still adding on to the periodical tables! Science and discovery are moving forward. And so must we.

Decloaking . . .

JL # 39:

Dude, none taken. But, since I’ve posted only a handfull of times in the last year, (which is my De-Recloaking point); I hope you haven’t caught any of that “Deadly Years” bug.

Thanks for “Remember”-ing my shtick (which is the other point of it). It will continue. Sorry to bug ya.

Recloaking (maybe for several months)}:-D>

oh. yeah. ’cause I remember you doing it back before and after the opening of NuTrek.


#42- DNA was discovered in 1869 (although initially named ‘nuclein’), and the chemical composition basically determined by 1920. Watson & Crick established the double helix structure in 1953- 57 years ago. I would have used a different example, but your point is still valid.

50 years ago, we did not know-
* The envirnoments of Mars and Titan well, and we had no idea of the real diversity of the Jovian or Saturnian moons. (in 1960, only 31 mooons were known, the number is now around 130.)
* No extrasolar planets were known, and virtually ALL speculation about such were more or less duplicates of our own solar system.
* Astrochemistry was a very simple affair, with only a dozen or so molecles known in the interstellar medium, we now know of several HUNDRED, including Complex organics.
* Archeabacteria were basically unknown. It was known that bacteria could live in anerobic conditions, but the extreme cold, heat or pH conditions that Life can and DOES exist at was not.
* Bacteria had not been discovered in solid crustal rock several miles down.
* Our understanding of the envirnomental conditions of the early Earth that led to Life were poorly understood and rather simplistic, although the age of the first Life has not changed radically. ‘Snowball Earth’ was not even a theory 50 years ago. I’m not going to go into all of the developments in Evolutionary Biology in the last 50 years.
*The basic filimental structure of the universe was poorly known, although the ‘Big Bang’ theory had been established.
*We knew of 102 chemical elements, there are now 112 confirmed and about 5 or 6 unconfirmed to date.
* I could go on for MANY pages, but hopefully you get the idea.

We are ALREADY creating silicon-based near-life forms- just tweak the definition of ‘Life’ a bit, and you have ‘Life-Forms’ or ‘Entities’.

Again, I will refer you all to Clarke’s “The Universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we CAN imagine”. There are more surprises than Life out there.

Long live the Horta!

Horay for “life, but not as we know it”!

Now – if we could just find some arsenic based nodules, somewhere on the bottom of Lake Mono…

(“Decloaking'”, “recloaking” has never bothered me, along with any other lighthearted trekfoolery … but knowing that there are people that are annoyed… for some really weird reason, “that” does scare me a little??? Hmmm, must be something wrong with me?)

@46: Not at all — if there’s a place on the intertubes for trekfoolery, this is it.

Keep on cloaking, Commodore Lurker! :)

“When we’re searching for alien life, if it’s not a Ferengi from Star Trek, what would it be?”

Finally a reference to an alien other than Vulcans.

I think of the saying: “Truth can be stranger than fiction”.

So, is there room in the League of Extraordinarily Cloaked Gentlemen for others? :)

But I digress. I have a major problem with the announcement. This part: “So far it has been understood that all life is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur.”

So, the calcium put into my bones, the sodium, potassium and chlorine in my electrolytes, the iron in my blood…. what the hell are they? Remove them, and leave me only with my C, H, N, O, P, S, and I’m dead. NASA isn’t being very precise: they need to state that life *depends* on organic molecules composed of only six components. We need a LOT of other elements to survive.

Some more than others! Perhaps some lithium too… especially for the fellow who’s cloakaphobic!