Feed A Microbe An Unearthly Dish And You Make Your Own Extraterrestrial

July 29, 1998


An Alien Diet

What do extraterrestrials eat? A team of American biologists is starting to explore the possibilities by weaning Earth bacteria onto a diet that they would not normally encounter on this planet.

"We don't know all the possibilities for life," says Andrew Ellington of the University of Texas, Austin. "If we found life on another planet, what could it be like, where could it live, what might it eat?" The search for life on Mars and other planets might eventually answer some of these questions, he said last week at an astrobiology workshop at the NASA Ames Research Center near San Francisco.

Meanwhile, however, Ellington has decided to take a different approach. If he couldn't find an extraterrestrial, he could try to make one instead. The building blocks of life might be very different on another planet, so he and his team decided to see if a terrestrial microbe could adapt to a major change in its diet.

They grew a strain of the bacterium Escherichia coli that can't make the amino acid tryptophan, an essential part of proteins. As a result, it requires a constant supply of tryptophan to grow.

The researchers also gave it a related synthetic amino acid, fluorotryptophan. This might conceivably be an essential component of life on another planet, but to life as we know it, fluorotryptophan is poison. When substituted for tryptophan, the impostor is incorporated into E. coli proteins and cripples the cells, killing them after about three divisions.

When the researchers gave the bacterial cultures a mixture of 95 per cent fluorotryptophan and 5 per cent normal tryptophan, the organisms barely coped and grew only slowly. But after many generations, the microbes started to divide more rapidly, suggesting they had developed mutations that helped them cope with fluorotryptophan's toxic effects. In small steps, the researchers increased the amount of the synthetic amino acid. The cells were eventually able to survive on a diet with 100 per cent fluorotryptophan and have divided for seven generations.

Author: Philip Cohen
New Scientist issue 1st August, page 14

PLEASE MENTION NEW SCIENTIST AS THE SOURCE OF THIS ARTICLE
-end-


New Scientist

Related Diet Articles from Brightsurf:

What's for dinner? Dolphin diet study
More evidence has emerged to support stricter coastal management, this time focusing on pollution and overfishing in the picturesque tourist waters off Auckland in New Zealand.

Can your diet help protect the environment?
If Americans adhere to global dietary recommendations designed to reduce the impact of food production and consumption, environmental degradation could be reduced by up to 38%, according to a new paper published in the journal Environmental Justice.

Diet may help preserve cognitive function
According to a recent analysis of data from two major eye disease studies, adherence to the Mediterranean diet - high in vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil -- correlates with higher cognitive function.

Diet quality of young people in US
This observational study used national survey data from young people up to age 19 to estimate the overall diet quality of children and teens in the United States and to explore how diet quality has changed from 1999 to 2016.

The keto diet can lead to flu-like symptoms during the first few weeks on the diet
A ketogenic diet can lead to several flu-like symptoms within the first few weeks on the diet.

Reconstructing the diet of fossil vertebrates
Paleodietary studies of the fossil record are impeded by a lack of reliable and unequivocal tracers.

Your gums reveal your diet
Sweet soft drinks and lots of sugar increase the risk of both dental cavities and inflammation of the gums -- known as periodontal diseases -- and if this is the case, then healthy eating habits should be prioritized even more.

Poor diet can lead to blindness
An extreme case of 'fussy' or 'picky' eating caused a young patient's blindness, according to a new case report published today [2 Sep 2019] in Annals of Internal Medicine.

New research on diet and supplements during pregnancy and beyond
The foods and nutrients a woman consumes while pregnant have important health implications for her and her baby.

Special issue: Diet and Health
Diet has major effects on human health. In this special issue of Science, 'Diet and Health,' four Reviews explore the connections between what we eat and our well-being, as well as the continuing controversies in this space.

Read More: Diet News and Diet Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.