Field of Science

Felisa Wolfe-Simon's poster at the Dec. 2011 AGU meeting

I just found the Abstract for a poster presented by Felisa Wolfe-Simon at this month's American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting.

TITLE: Characterizations of intracellular arsenic in a bacterium
SESSION TITLE: B51G. Life Under Stress: How Do Microbes Cope?
AUTHORS: Felisa Wolfe-Simon, Steven M. Yannone, John A. Tainer.  Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, United States.
ABSTRACT: Life requires a key set of chemical elements to sustain growth. Yet, a growing body of literature suggests that microbes can alter their nutritional requirements based on the availability of these chemical elements. Under limiting conditions for one element microbes have been shown to utilize a variety of other elements to serve similar functions often (but not always) in similar molecular structures. Well-characterized elemental exchanges include manganese for iron, tungsten for molybdenum and sulfur for phosphorus or oxygen. These exchanges can be found in a wide variety of biomolecules ranging from protein to lipids and DNA. Recent evidence suggested that arsenic, as arsenate or As(V), was taken up and incorporated into the cellular material of the bacterium GFAJ-1. The evidence was interpreted to support As(V) acting in an analogous role to phosphate. We will therefore discuss our ongoing efforts to characterize intracellular arsenate and how it may partition among the cellular fractions of the microbial isolate GFAJ-1 when exposed to As(V) in the presence of various levels of phosphate. Under high As(V) conditions, cells express a dramatically different proteome than when grown given only phosphate. Ongoing studies on the diversity and potential role of proteins and metabolites produced in the presence of As(V) will be reported. These investigations promise to inform the role and additional metabolic potential for As in biology. Arsenic assimilation into biomolecules contributes to the expanding set of chemical elements utilized by microbes in unusual environmental niches.
The work it describes is new, as it was done in John Tainer's lab at Lawrence Berkeley.  Unfortunately there's not much meat.  That's not surprising, since poster abstracts typically have to be submitted months in advance and the deadline for AGU seems to have been August 4.  I can't find any tweets or other information about this poster - did anyone see it?


  1. Do you get many biologists at a geophysical conference?

  2. looks like more FLIM-FLAM from these BAD SCIENTISTS!! Why would a geomicrobiologist present at AGU?? Right Rosie?

  3. @acleron: Ignore the anonymous troll. Yes, there are whole sessions devoted to microbiology, exploring the various ways that microorganisms interact with soils and minerals.

  4. Well - nothing controversial there. I guess that in itself is notable. Nothing about GFAJ-1 being able to grow in the absence of phosphorus; nothing about arsenic getting incorporated into DNA..

  5. @PatrikD: "nothing about arsenic getting incorporated into DNA"

    One could interpret the statements "Recent evidence suggested that arsenic, as arsenate or As(V), was taken up and incorporated into the cellular material of the bacterium GFAJ-1" and "Arsenic assimilation into biomolecules" to be references to just that. In full fairness, though, it would be helpful to know the content of the poster to know whether or not that interpretation is what FWS intended.

  6. @GH: "Arsenic assimilation into biomolecules"

    I'd suspect this was phrased sufficiently vague to also include the possibility that arsenic got incorporated as a cofactor in some proteins, or even bound to some small molecules, possibly even natural As chelating molecules. Which would be interesting, but not nearly as controversial as As incorporation into DNA.

  7. @PatrikD

    to be fair "arsenic assimilation into biomolecules" is the way that it is phrased in the original Wolfe-Simon paper, although in the paper they go on mention nucleic acids and proteins specifically

  8. Uhh... what could be technically simpler than showing arsenic has replaced phosphate in DNA or not? How long can this game be stretched out?

    Here's a description of her evasiveness in an 18 Mar 2011 seminar:

    I call on Science magazine to publically release all peer reviewer comments and all over-riding correspondence between the editor of Science and her socially connected mentor, co-author and non-biologist Paul C.W Davies

  9. Bit late to the party on this but I have it on a good authority that the paper was reviewed by 3 referees and all 3 reviews were extremely positive. I'm told that is part of the reason why they weren't prepared for what happened after the press conference....what that says about the review process at Science is a whole other matter (since when do 3 scientists ever agree on anything...)...


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