Shadow Biosphere: Mono Lake Hypothesis Redux

By John Jaksich

The unfortunate refutation of Dr. Wolfe-Simon’s work by mainstream microbiology led me to further consider how and why the work was so far off? Reconsideration of the work leading-up to her “ground-breaking” paper does not, shall I say, add up correctly. The hypothesis of a possible “shadow” biosphere may not be too far off; however, the means used to strengthen an otherwise interesting hypothesis may have been incorrect. Using what I try to term as Occam’s razor—the methods used to obtain the data and conclusion by Dr. Wolfe-Simon et al were far too complicated. The methods of aqueous wet chemistry can be exceptionally problematic—cross contamination is the norm even for the most skilled of analytical chemists. The methods which they used were to reproduce the actual chemistry of arsenic loving bacteria—a feat of extreme difficulty as the refutation publications attested—were too complicated.


Tuffa Towers of Mono Lake--Could the Arsenic-uitilizing bacteria left clues of their existence in the towers?credit: Photo by Richard E. Ellis via Wikipedia

Tuffa Towers of Mono Lake–Could the Arsenic-uitilizing bacteria left clues of their existence in the towers? It might be worth a look?
credit: Photo by Richard E. Ellis via Wikipedia


By my personal recollection of lab work—there is always the question of “mass-balance” in any type of chemical reaction. Or, to put the terms in a different perspective, one must balance the chemical equation of any reaction to know the means by which a reaction does or does not proceed. Assuming the lead-up publications to the Science article by Wolfe-Simon were correct, then it may stand to reason that a more refined methodology may further refute the hypothesis or strongly, rebut refutation. So, given the nature of the hyper-saline, caustic environment—there may have been a different manner to detect the presence of these arsenic-utilizing bacteria.

After reviewing later literature*, it is apparent that amorphous, bacterial “species” can “include” metals and organic molecule structures in sub-fossilized bacteria—or stated in another manner, finding the missing arsenic in the sub-fossilized bacteria (along with the organic molecule structures) goes a long way to making the claim of arsenic-utilizing bacteria more tenable.

Definition of Term and Bibliography

Sub-fossil: incompletely fossilized remains—which may include organic molecules, or inorganic metals used to further classify the remains

E. Couradeau, K. Benzerara, E. Gerard, D.Moreira, S.Bernard, G.E.Brown Jr.and P.Lopez-Garcia “An early-branching microbialite cyanobacterium forms intracellular carbonates”(Science 27 April 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6080 pp. 459-462)

E. Couradeau, K. Benzerara, D. Moreira, E. Gerard, J. Kazmierczak, R. Tavera and P. Lopez-Garcia (2011). “Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic Community Structure in Field and Cultured Microbialites from the Alkaline Lake Alchichica (Mexico).” (PLoS ONE 6(12): e28767)

Hypothesis Article

Signatures of a Shadow Biosphere

Paul C.W. Davies, Steven A. Benner, Carol E. Cleland, Charles H. Lineweaver,

Christopher P. McKay, and Felisa Wolfe-Simon


Volume 9, Number 2, 2009


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