A controversial arsenic microbe paper, one that NASA touted as offering insight into alien life, came under heavy criticism on Friday.
Released by Science magazine, the eight critiques offer different blasts at a 2010 paper released by the same journal. It described a microbe which the study authors, led by Felisa Wolfe-Simon of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, suggested was able to incorporate poisonous arsenic into its genes. The release comes outside Science's regular publishing schedule, and without the usual advance notice that the journal weekly gives to reporters to allow them to run studies by independent experts for comment.
In a statement, the journal explained its decision to release the on-line "technical comment" papers, which will be formally published in June:
Science's editors do not consider these eight critiques and Wolfe-Simon et al's response to be the final word on the subject. Rather, we see this exchange, which was peer-reviewed according to Science's standard process, as providing further opportunities for research and education. We hope the new material, which clarifies some points about the experimental setup and methods, will help readers evaluate the research and that it will assist scientists attempting to replicate the findings. Wolfe-Simon and colleagues are providing their bacterial cultures for this purpose.
Science's editors suggest the arsenic microbe story still has a ways to go before it faces any resolution:
The fact that we received so much feedback to the Wolfe-Simon paper, suggests to us that science is proceeding as it should. The study involved multiple techniques and lines of evidence, and the authors felt their conclusion was the most plausible explanation for these results when considered as a whole. We hope that the study and the subsequent exchange being published today will stimulate further experiments -- whether they support or overturn this conclusion. In either case, the overall result will advance our knowledge about conditions that support life, an important outcome for science and education.