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Keywords:

  • arsenate;
  • arsenic life;
  • ester hydrolysis;
  • phosphate

Abstract

Arsenic and phosphorus are group 15 elements with similar chemical properties. Is it possible that arsenate could replace phosphate in some of the chemicals that are required for life? Phosphate esters are ubiquitous in biomolecules and are essential for life, from the sugar phosphates of intermediary metabolism to ATP to phospholipids to the phosphate backbone of DNA and RNA. Some enzymes that form phosphate esters catalyze the formation of arsenate esters. Arsenate esters hydrolyze very rapidly in aqueous solution, which makes it improbable that phosphorous could be completely replaced with arsenic to support life. Studies of bacterial growth at high arsenic:phosphorus ratios demonstrate that relatively high arsenic concentrations can be tolerated, and that arsenic can become involved in vital functions in the cell, though likely much less efficiently than phosphorus. Recently Wolfe-Simon et al. 1 reported the isolation of a microorganism that they maintain uses arsenic in place of phosphorus for growth. Here, we examine and evaluate their data and conclusions.